“Elizabeth and Charlie…” Rachel echoed slowly, as the full implication of what Frankie had just said sank in with a nearly audible thump.
From the looks father and daughter exchanged – him quizzical; her mortified – Frankie guessed her gut instinct had been correct and Elizabeth hadn’t exactly shared news of her budding relationship with the family. The only one who might have had a prior inkling was Cory. He appeared thoroughly composed following the revelation. Then again, he always looked that way. It wasn’t natural. And, frankly, more than a little frustrating. Especially when you were trying to pump him for details like Frankie had been trying to do just a moment earlier.
Elizabeth’s skin blazed scarlet and she defensively blurted out, “So?” Followed by a somewhat less insubordinate, all but whispered, “What?” as her initial burst of courage visibly dissipated.
“You and Charlotte Winthrop?” Now it was Carl’s turn to make certain he’d understood exactly what they were speaking about.
Elizabeth nodded, trying to seem defiant with her head, at least, even as the rest of her was visibly trembling.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Elizabeth.” Carl sighed deeply, visibly disappointed – and making no attempt to hide the fact. “How could you possibly sink so low?”
“Hey!” Frankie piped up, ready to defend Elizabeth and Charlie to the death in the face of Carl’s narrow-mindedness – despite knowing for a fact that her daughter’s entire reason for the illicit relationship was anything but harmless.
Carl ignored her and went on, “If you had only been honest with me from the start, there were a host of young women of better breeding and finer station I could have introduced you to. The Duke of Winchester’s granddaughter, for example. She is just about your age and of similar sensibilities, and certainly a much more fitting companion than – “
“Hey!” Frankie repeated, this time with completely different meaning. How dare Carl not be a knee-jerk cliché bigot, after all, but simply a snob?
“That’s why you wanted to stay on in Bay City, isn’t it?” Rachel guessed. “Because of Charlie?”
Elizabeth shrugged, blindsided by her parents seeming lack of hysteria over something that, okay, to be honest, she’d really, really hoped would throw them into hysteria. That is, when she’d gathered up the courage to tell them herself. Which she certainly hadn’t planned to do anytime soon.
“You could have just told us,” Rachel said. “Did you think we’d judge you?”
“I thought you’d be… you know….”
“Please,” Carl sniffed. “What sort of provincial imbeciles do you take your mother and I for? Quite frankly, I should think, if anything, this development would make you more motivated to abandon the backwater that is the States for the progressive liberalism of Europe. After all, Europe has always been a great deal more sophisticated regarding – “
“Especially the Russians,” Cory deadpanned. “And the Nazis. And the three trials of Oscar Wilde.”
“The Russians never have been and never will be anything more than savage, half-caste Mongolians in possession of the most tenuous claim to European civilization – no matter how much money they accrue or vulgar palaces they build” Carl spat. “As for the rest… a temporary, mad aberration in an otherwise admirable history of Enlightenment, and two centuries old news, respectively.”
“Alan Turing, 20th century,” Cory mumbled under his breath, knowing that his point had been made.
Carl knew it, too. Which was why he pretended not to have heard, and instead focused exclusively on Elizabeth. “You should have been honest with me, poppet.”
“And me,” Rachel added. Though, to Frankie’s eye, Elizabeth’s mother didn’t seem nearly as sanguine about the whole thing as her husband. “You know you can always talk to me. If you’re sad, or hurt or… confused. I’m your mother. I’m here for you.”
“Now,” Elizabeth taunted. The “where were you before” painfully implied.
“You’re right,” Rachel swallowed hard. “You’re… absolutely right.”
“Excuse me,” Frankie said, inching towards the door, happy that the spotlight seemed to have been turned off her… and Charlie’s illicit acquisition of Elizabeth’s phone. “This is a private, family matter. I’ll be going now.” She couldn’t help adding, however. “It was nice to see you, Elizabeth. I hope I’ll be seeing more of you soon!”
“Ms. Love! How lovely to see you again!”
It seemed to Matt that everywhere he and Donna went throughout Switzerland, his wife was greeted with extravagant warmth and multiple kisses on multiple cheeks. As long as it was a place that required the generous spending of money. Or the generous depositing of money, as was the case with this particular branch of the Bank Suisse.
“It’s Mrs. Cory now,” Donna tittered, returning the kisses that came her way before introducing Matt and taking a seat across from the gentlemen she described as her very favorite banker in the world.
“Of course, of course, my mistake. A beautiful woman like you can never be expected to stay single for long. And what may I do for you today, Ms – Mrs. Cory?”
“I’m afraid I have a rather delicate request to make.”
“For you? Anything for my best client!”
“My sister-in-law, Iris Cory Wheeler, she also keeps her funds here, does she not?”
“We are very proud to be trusted with the holdings of only the very best families,” he confirmed.
“Well, I am wondering if you might tell me whether Iris has recently taken out a large sum of money, in cash, here in Switzerland.”
His joy at seeing Donna seemed to diminish somewhat. “Mrs. Cory, I am sure you realize such a breech of etiquette would be highly improper!”
“Oh, just a tiny peek, nothing more! You don’t even need to tell me the amount. Simply confirm, yes or no, as to the existence of such a withdrawal. I’ll take care of the rest.”
“I could lose my job!”
“Would you prefer to be arrested, instead?” Donna asked politely, as if genuinely curious to hear his answer.
“Arrested? For what!”
“For being an accessory to a crime.”
“I merely forwarded Mrs. Wheeler the funds she asked for! If she chose to use them for disreputable purposes, I can hardly be held accountable!”
“So she did withdraw a substantial sum in cash recently?” Donna leaned forward, the better to reel him in.
“I said no such thing, Mrs. Cory.”
“No, you didn’t.” Donna agreed. “Thank you for your time.” She rose to leave.
“You are most welcome.”
Donna’s banker waited until she and Matt were back on the street and well out of hearing range before he picked up the phone, dialed a number from memory and informed, “I did exactly as you asked. Anything for my best client, of course….”
“I don’t remember anything,” Lorna insisted steadfastly to Lucas. “I told you, Jamie and I are starting fresh. I’m the kids’ mother. They deserve to have me at least give it a try.”
“They do,” Lucas agreed. “Just like I deserve the truth from my daughter. So here’s the truth: You remember Devon and Mackenzie. You remember Jamie. You remember me, and you remember the life you had before whatever it was Carl did to you.”
“Why do you keep saying that? What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because I saw the way you looked at me when I came in. For three years, Lorna, you and I kept secrets from the whole world. We lied to Felicia and to Jenna. I saw what kind of toll those lies took on you. And I’m seeing the exact same thing now. When you first came back with Carl, you didn’t look at me, you looked through me. That’s not the case, anymore. Felicia saw it, too.”
“She saw it, but she didn’t recognize what it meant. She doesn’t know you as well as I do. Or, at least, not in the same way. She never asked you to tell a heart-breaking lie and stick to it no matter how much it might hurt the people you love. Not the way I did. She felt that something was different when you and Jamie came to pick up the kids. But, she couldn’t put her finger on it. I saw it right away.”
Lorna kept shaking her head. And Lucas patiently waited for her to stop.
Eventually, she did.
“Daddy,” Lorna said softly.
“Lorna.” He pulled her into a hug, holding on so tightly neither one could breathe. Even when he let go of her, he’d only hold her at arm’s length, asking, “Why? Why continue the lies?”
“Carl,” she told him.
“Of course,” Lucas said. And then he added, “You know I had nothing to do with it, right? I had no idea he was planning to abduct you.”
“I know,” Lorna reassured. “You would never do that to Mom. Or to Jamie.”
“You didn’t go willingly?”
“He had goons with guns pointed at Devon and Zee.”
“The son of a bitch…” Lucas didn’t turn red with anger, he went straight to purple. “I’ll kill him.”
“Get in line.”
“I still don’t understand why you’re protecting him, then.”
“I’m not protecting him. I’m protecting Jamie and my kids and you and Mom. Carl has Rachel completely snowed about how he heroically saved me and the twins, even if he had to fake our deaths to do it.”
“Rachel said she was in on it,” Lucas remembered.
“I think she’s lying. I’m not sure why – it’s absolutely destroyed her relationship with Jamie. But, I guess Carl is more important to her than he is. Carl certainly never said anything to me about Rachel being involved, and I know she didn’t have any contact with Elizabeth or Cory. If Rachel were in on it, don’t you think they’d have been in touch?”
“So Rachel would rather have her own son believe she had his wife kidnapped than admit she married a monster?”
“Like I said, Rachel believes his story. She believes Carl is the hero. Can you imagine the lengths Carl would go to, to keep me from blowing his cover?”
Lucas exhaled slowly, understanding, “As long as he thinks you have amnesia…”
“Jamie and our kids are safe. That’s all that matters. I’ll lie for the rest of my life, if I have to. They’re worth it.”
“Meanwhile, Carl gets away with everything he’s done?”
“I don’t care. I can’t care. I can’t let my hate for Carl overrule how much I love my family. I can’t let it make me do something stupid, something I’ll regret.”
“You might have all that to lose,” Lucas said grimly. “I don’t.”
“Hi, Mrs. Fowler,” GQ did a double-take at the sight of Amanda on his doorstep. Their already meager and strained interaction had ended pretty much at the same times as his had with Allie. Through Allie’s choice. “Please. Come in.” His mother would be furious if GQ didn’t mind his manners.
“Thank you,” Amanda said. She knew what her own mother thought about her manners, but decided to prove her wrong. “How are you, GQ?”
“Have you seen Hudson lately?”
“Last weekend. I told him I’d finally gotten my Ph.D. He didn’t seem very impressed.”
“He must be so big now. Is he in school?”
“Does he like it?”
“I think so. Rick and Mindy have practically every painting he’s ever made there up on their walls. Rick says they’re thinking of moving, giving Hudson his own studio.” In response to Amanda’s confusion about how to react, GQ said, “He was kidding. I mean, I think he was kidding. They do kind of spoil him.”
“You don’t like the way Hudson is being raised?”
GQ shrugged. “Not my call, is it?”
“Do you ever talk to Allie about him?”
“She doesn’t want to hear about Hudson. And she doesn’t want to hear from me. So… no.”
“You know she’s living with Zeno now, right?”
“Yeah,” GQ said stiffly. “I know.”
“I gather they’ve had some trouble out there. The local board wants to take over his land and Zeno isn’t interested. It’s come down to guns being drawn. I’m not comfortable with Allie living in such an environment.”
“Allie isn’t particularly big on listening to other people.”
“She seems pretty big on listening to Zeno. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he has her brainwashed.”
“Brainwashed?” GQ’s own brain did a little roll at that.
“Well, they’re out there, in the middle of nowhere, provoking the government, refusing to follow local laws. Doesn’t that sound sort of… cult-ish? Waco? Ruby Ridge? Isn’t that how all those places get started? A cult of personality who doesn’t want his followers listening to anyone else, especially their families?”
“I never really saw Zeno in that light,” GQ offered charitably.
“Allie is wasting her life,” Amanda said bluntly. “A girl like her shouldn’t be… farming.”
“It’s honest work,” GQ pointed out.
“She’s capable of so much more. Listen, GQ, you and I both know that Allie hasn’t been herself since what happened with Hudson. First, she gave him up without thinking any of the consequences through. And then there was what happened with Gregory – she nearly went to jail for the rest of her life over that. And now this! At first, I thought it was postpartum depression. But now I think it’s more than that. I think she’s just so confused and guilt-ridden about everything that’s happened, that she’s just ripe for the picking for the first boy who makes her feel okay about everything she’s been through.”
“So what you’re saying, Mrs. Fowler, is that Allie lost her mind because of me.”
“No,” Amanda said. Then amended, “Well, not exactly.”
“Why are you here?”
“Because Allie needs help. I can feel it, I’m her mother. But, I am also the last person she would ever accept it from.”
“In that case, I’m the second to last.”
“I don’t think so,” Amanda insisted. “I think you’re Allie’s only chance to get back to normal.”
“Hello, Olivia,” Marley said neutrally, acting as if she had no problem at all with Dennis and his ex crossing paths on a regular basis. They did share a child, after all. Even if that child was, unfortunately, Sarah. “Did I hear my name come up?” she asked innocently.
“I was telling Olivia… about us,” Dennis hurriedly crossed the room to take Marley’s arm protectively. “And about Sarah and Grant.”
“You mean your daughter didn’t tell you herself?” Marley wondered.
“I guess Sarah doesn’t think hooking up with a man who found you acceptable is exactly something to be proud of,” Olivia’s innocent tone mirrored Marley’s.
“Or maybe she’d even rather confide in the woman she betrayed instead of her own mother.” Marley shrugged blithely.
“Six of one, half dozen of the other,” Olivia agreed. “Though considering you and Dennis were sleeping together behind Grant’s back practically the entire time you two were married, I wouldn’t exactly be casting stones at Sarah and her alleged betrayal.”
Marley’s head whipped around, her eyes shooting daggers at Dennis, wondering how he possibly could have told Olivia such a thing.
“What difference does it make now?” Dennis sputtered defensively.
Marley ignored his question, preferring to tackle the topic once they were alone. Instead, she told Olivia, “Dennis and Grant are practically strangers.”
“They might have been stepbrothers, if Iris had succeeded in dragging Spencer to the altar.”
Marley went on, “I, on the other hand, took Sarah into my home. I was there for her when no one else was. I was like a mother to her. And she repaid me by sleeping with my husband, and now by stealing him away.”
“I thought you left Grant,” Olivia prompted, sneaking a sly look at Dennis.
“I left him because he was obviously still in love with your daughter!”
“Oh, really?” Olivia crossed her arms. “And here I thought it was due to your no longer capable of being denied love for Dennis.”
“Okay, that’s enough.” Dennis physically stepped in between the two women, currently much more interested in hustling Olivia out of his apartment before she dropped the bombshell about her alleged and most likely faked – again! – pregnancy, than he was in exploring what Marley had just said. Though he did have some questions about that, too.
“I know what you’re doing,” Marley said coolly. She turned to Dennis, “Can’t you see what she’s doing?”
“Yes,” Dennis seethed, glaring at Olivia, warning her to not so much as think of opening her mouth.
“She’s only here because of Jamie,” Marley said.
“Boy, have you got that wrong,” Olivia shot back.
“Now that Jamie and Lorna are back together, he’s kicked Olivia to the curb – like he should have done years ago. She can’t have him, so she’s come crawling back to you. I’m sorry, Olivia, Dennis isn’t available to be your whipping boy anymore.”
“That position has been filled, I take it?” Olivia snorted, then added, “And you’re full of it. Jamie and Lorna aren’t back together. She doesn’t remember a thing about him!”
“Uh-uh-uh,” Marley hummed smugly. “Lorna got her memory back.”
“What – what are you talking about?”
“I was there.” Marley twisted the knife in deeper. “I saw the whole thing. Jamie asked me to help him get his wife back. Because he trusted me with the most important thing in his life. Because we’re friends.”
“Jamie and I are friends, too!”
“Then why didn’t he invite you to help him?”
“Ask him yourself,” Marley taunted. “Or, better yet, ask Lorna. She’s back living at their house again. They’re back to being a family. And you, Olivia… you’re back to being alone.”
“We really should set a wedding date,” Grant advised Sarah as soon as they’d put Daisy to bed, Grant still reeling from the high of putting his daughter to bed, in his house, with her mother right there alongside him. To some, it may have seemed banal. To Grant, it was the height of decadence, and something he’d never dreamed being possible. “Those things take a lot of planning, especially if you have a popular venue in mind, plus the caterer and the flowers and the music. It’s your day. You should have everything you want; money is no object.”
“I don’t want,” Sarah said, sheepishly, proceeding to clear their dinner dishes, avoiding Grant’s eyes.
“You mean you don’t want to marry me?” The panic in Grant’s voice would have been funny if it also weren’t sweet. And sad.
“I do,” she reassured him, putting down the dishes, walking up to Grant, kissing him. “I do want to marry you.”
“Please don’t ever scare me like that again.” He tapped his chest. “You’ll give me heart palpitations.”
“I just don’t want a wedding.”
“But… you’re young. You deserve one. Surely, you must have dreamed about – “
“When I dreamed about a wedding, things weren’t this… complicated.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, the groom wasn’t still married, for one thing.”
“I have my attorneys already working on it. That shouldn’t be a problem for long.”
“And who would we even invite?”
“Well…. Allie, for one thing. Lila. Jasmine. They still like me. Your parents, I suppose. Your Aunt Alice. She’s my stepmother, too, so that’s fitting – and efficient. Your grandfather. – ”
“He’s married to Iris.”
“Nothing would make me happier, Sarah, than to have Iris watch me marry you. I’ll make sure to save her a front row seat.”
She rolled her eyes, knowing exactly what Grant meant by that, then admitted, “It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
“You’ll think it’s stupid,” Sarah mumbled.
“I like stupid,” he teased. “A lot of people think you marrying me is stupid, but, I’m all for it. I say the stupider, the better.”
Sarah laughed, confessing, “I don’t want to have a big wedding because I don’t want Daisy to be a part of it.”
“What?” Now Grant was totally lost. “You don’t think our daughter would make the most beautiful flower girl the world has ever seen?”
“I don’t want her at our wedding, because I don’t want her knowing that her parents got married after she was born. I know it’s – yeah, there I go again – stupid. This is Bay City. Kids who are actually born legitimate here get some kind of prize, or a statue or whatever. But, I want Daisy to think we’ve always been together. And if we have a big wedding, with her in it, that’s going to be impossible.”
“Stupid?” Sarah prompted.
“Sweet,” Grant told her, briefly pondering their dilemma. “Alright, then. No big wedding. We’ll just go down to City Hall. You, me, Allie, and…” He trailed off, realizing even the single position of best man would be pretty tough for him to fill.
“How about Kirkland?” Sarah offered tentatively.
Grant snorted. “The only place Kirkland would be willing to stand up for me these days is at my funeral. And I’m not too certain about that.”
“How about if I ask him?”
Grant cocked his head. “You’d speak to Kirkland for me?”
“Sure. We’re… friends.”
“When did that happen?”
“After I defended him when you criticized his working at Tops and Carlino’s,” Sarah’s eyes twinkled.
“Ah. Yes, I can see how that would be a bonding experience.”
“Do you want me to ask him about being your best man?”
“If you want…” Grant struggled to play it cool.
“I’d do anything for you,” she reminded him.
“That’s my line,” he corrected, suddenly sounding deadly serious. “You are the best thing in my life, Sarah. You and Daisy – you two are my life. I promise you, right here, right now, without any judge or minister or an audience of disapproving family members: I will do anything and everything it takes to make you happy every minute of every day of every year that we’re together. And don’t worry, I know exactly what I need to do to make that happen. This time around, nothing and no one is going to get in our way.”
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