“That’s the last of them,” Olivia cheerfully told Devon and Mackenzie as the two little girls huffed and puffed up and down the stairs, depositing the bags Olivia had brought into her new room at Jamie’s house.
The pair were so giddy at the notion of Olivia coming for a “long sleep-over,” that Jamie felt grateful Lorna wasn’t there to see it. She’d moved out earlier in the day. Mostly to the girls’ indifference.
“What should we play first?” Olivia made herself at home on the living room couch, Devon tucked under one arm, Mackenzie under the other, looking like the cat that not only ate the canary, but the perch it swung on, too.
“Actually,” Jamie interrupted the love-fest by taking both Devon and Zee by the hands and gently pulling them away from Olivia. “The grown ups need to have a little chat. Why don’t the two of you go up to Olivia’s room and start unpacking for her? I’m sure she’s got no secrets from us.”
“None at all,” Olivia smiled sweetly and shooed the girls upstairs. “Go ahead, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Jamie waited until he was sure both his daughters were out of hearing range before informing Olivia, “Ground Rules. Number One) You are not Devon and Zee’s mother. You will never be Devon and Zee’s mother. I realize that they love you, and I once had no problem with that. But, if you do anything to undermine their relationship with Lorna – more than you already have with this stunt, that is – I will physically toss you to the curb without so much as a moment’s hesitation. Am I making myself clear?”
“I can’t help it if they prefer me over her.”
“Yes,” Jamie corrected. “You can. I am going to be making sure that Devon and Zee see plenty of Lorna while you’re here. Don’t you dare get in the way of that.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Olivia responded primly.
“Number Two) Stay out of my way. The less I see of you, the better.”
“This isn’t that large of a house, Jamie.”
“Number Three) Whatever games you’re playing with Dennis and Marley, under no circumstances are they to affect my kids.”
“I don’t want Dennis,” Olivia stressed. “I want you, Jamie. Why won’t you understand that? We could be so good together. The five of us. You, me, the girls, the baby – “
“Which brings me to the most important rule of all. You spill one – one, Goddamn word – to Devon or Zee about this alleged baby of ours, and the whole deal is off; all of it. Not just you living here, but me not denying being the father. You want to lie to Dennis and Russ and the rest of the world, you be my guest. I have more important things to worry about. But not to my kids.”
“I won’t,” Olivia swore, realizing this was one stipulation she couldn’t charm or snark her way out of. “I promise.”
“What?” He barked.
“What are we going to do about that once the baby is actually born?”
“Don’t worry,” Jamie dismissed. “You’ll be long gone from our lives by then.”
“This is your idea of leaving a girl breathless?” Lila panted, doing her best to keep up with Morgan. “Forcing her to trudge across the park on skis?”
“It’s actually just my way of seeing you in skin tight ski clothes,” Morgan admitted, plopping down on a park bench and resting his poles by his knees.
“You have some interesting ideas about first dates.”
“When it comes to dates – first or otherwise, in the words of that great American philanderer, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: We have nothing to fear, but boredom itself.”
“Now, see, I know I don’t hold myself one them fancy medical college degrees – but I don’t think that’s exactly how it goes.”
“It’s what he meant,” Morgan assured, helping Lila slip her boots from the cumbersome skis he’d provided for the occasions. “I believe he is also the one who said: In dating, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
“So you planned for our little adventure to take place on one of the coldest days of the year?”
“Of course. If it was balmy, what excuse would I have found for doing this?” Morgan asked as he casually slipped an arm over Lila’s shoulder.
She didn’t appear to object. “How fiendishly clever of you. So I suppose you’re the one who’s been causing global warming? The better to see women in bikinis, I presume?”
“Absolutely. That one is all on me.”
Lila laughed. Despite the numbness in her cheeks. “I’m starting to believe you really could charm the sun into shining overtime – then going away on your orders.”
“Only if I have a hot body to motivate me.” He pulled back, cocked his head and told Lila, “I cannot believe that Kevin Fowler was dumb enough to walk away from you.”
Lila stiffened, suddenly feeling the cold afresh after having been distracted from it by Morgan’s warmth. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I said,” Morgan remained calm, despite the irritation in her body language. “Kevin was an idiot letting you go. And for what!”
“If I recall correctly, you took a few sips from the Amanda well yourself.”
“Ancient history,” he shrugged. “And it’s not like I had you as an alternative. Kevin did.”
“He made his choice.” Lila coughed awkwardly into a gloved fist.
“Wonder if he regrets it now.”
“If he did,” Lila snapped. “He would do something about it. He’s lawyer, I’m sure the concept isn’t foreign to him.”
“Do you think he really loves her?” Morgan wondered. “Amanda, Kevin, that is.”
“It’s none of my business.”
“That’s what makes it fun to speculate. When you’ve got no dog in the fight.”
“Like me,” Morgan took Lila’s hand. “And like you. Right?”
The last thing Rachel needed to see upon hearing the wonderful news that her husband had finally been moved from the Intensive Care Unit into a private room was the woman who’d shot him standing by Carl’s bedside, both their heads lowered over an iPad she’d brought in and was now furiously tapping, while Carl, propped up with pillows, looked on in rapt attention.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Rachel seethed, initially unable to believe her eyes.
Carl chuckled, “I am afraid this is all my fault, my dear. You know how I’m never able to stay away from work, for long.”
“I could have brought you whatever you needed,” Rachel reminded.
“I wouldn’t dream of imposing. You’ve been under so much strain. Fortunately, Lorna was kind enough to anticipate my needs and bring in some time-sensitive data requiring my personalized attention.”
“You should be resting.”
“Resting, alas, is the epitome of deathly dullness.”
“It beats actual death,” Rachel snapped, glaring at Lorna. “What? You couldn’t get him one way, so you decide to try another?”
Lorna bit her lip and looked at Carl, appearing the picture of helplessness.
Carl attempted to intervene, taking Rachel’s hand and soothingly reminding, “The police have, as of yet, turned up no evidence regarding the identity of my would-be assassin.”
“That’s because they won’t listen to me! I saw her!”
“I did not,” Carl said gently.
Prompting Rachel to gasp. It was her first indication that Carl was not planning to go along with her identification.
“I am sorry, Rachel, but I am a man of honor, after all. I cannot bear false witness in such a manner. Truly, what would you think of me, if I could?”
“I would think that you trusted my word over that of a woman who tried to kill you!”
“Why would I do that, Rachel?” Lorna interrupted, her cheeks blazing scarlet. “What reason would I possibly have for going after Carl?”
Rachel turned on her daughter-in-law, eyes blazing, “You know what….”
This time, Lorna didn’t need to fake her fear. Even at the beginning of her relationship with Jamie, Rachel had never looked at Lorna with such hatred. Lorna truly believed that, if she could have, Jamie’s mother would have struck her down on the spot.
But, if Carl knew the cause of his wife’s newfound antipathy, he was certainly playing his cards close to the vest.
“Now, now, my dear,” he clucked. “Had we best not let the law take its course? If Lorna is, indeed, my assailant, we should know all in due course.”
“In the meantime,” Rachel hissed. “I want her gone.”
“That’s going to be a little difficult,” Lorna said sheepishly.
“I don’t think so. There’s the door. Walk through it.”
Lorna looked to Carl, gulped, and then was forced to tell Rachel, “Jamie has thrown me out.”
“He’s done what?”
“He thinks… with the investigation going on… it’s not good for me to be around the girls.”
Rachel’s entire being lit up with hope. “So does Jamie agree with me, now?”
“I don’t know,” Lorna looked near tears.
It seemed too good for Rachel to believe. “He didn’t say a word to me about it to me.”
“It just happened,” Lorna admitted. “That’s why I came to Carl. I have nowhere else to go. And he – he invited me to move back into the mansion until I did.”
“Where have you been?” Olivia asked Morgan, having waited in his office for close to half an hour, only for him to mosey in, all wind-burned and hair-tousled, dragging two pairs of skis behind him, no less.
“Minding my own business,” Morgan said. Although, technically, that wasn’t exactly true, either. “Did we have an appointment?”
“No. I just needed to talk to you.” Olivia said, “I have good news.”
“What good news could you possibly have to bring me?”
“Lorna’s moved out of Jamie’s house.”
Morgan wanted very much to be disinterested in Olivia’s news. He found, alas, that he couldn’t be. “How would you know that?”
“Because I’ve moved in.”
Despite his attempt to keep a cool façade, Morgan’s eyes, nonetheless, widened at that. “You’re kidding….”
“How the hell did this happen?”
“Well, after Lorna pumped a bullet into Carl’s back – “
“Jamie denied that up and down to Rachel. The whole hospital heard them.”
“Well, after giving it some more thought, he’s come around to his mother’s point of view. Lorna is clearly nuts. Who knows, maybe she forgot doing it, same way she forgot being married to him and being Devon and Zee’s mom. She’s off her rocker. Which makes her a danger to the kids.”
“Ah. Which is where you come in. Jamie needed a free nursemaid.”
“I am a hell of a lot more than a nursemaid to him!”
“Oh, yeah. Right.” Morgan’s eyes dropped to Olivia’s waistline with a professional detachment. “The baby.”
Olivia hesitated. She gestured for Morgan to close the door. And then she still lowered her voice to tell him, “There is no baby.”
“You are going to be the prettiest girl at our wedding,” Marley cooed to Daisy as Grant and Sarah’s child preened in front of the mirror at the bridal shop, and Dennis looked on, still in a bit of shock at the unexpected turn his life had just taken.
“Now you’re sure Sarah said this was okay?” He double-checked, all but looking over his shoulder for the police car he felt half-certain was about to come screaming around the corner and arrest them both for kidnapping.
“It was her idea. She doesn’t want to keep on fighting anymore than I do. She knows this is what’s best for Daisy.”
“And Grant?” Dennis queried. “Grant is on-board, too?”
Marley shrugged. “Grant will do whatever Sarah says. He’s completely enchanted by her.” She smiled and hugged Dennis around the waist, burying her face in his chest. “Just like you are with me. It’s a very nice quality for a husband to have, I must say.”
“I do love you, Marley,” Dennis reaffirmed, knowing that she never grew tired of hearing it. Or needing to hear it. “I just can’t believe everything is falling into place like this.”
“It is, it is,” she insisted, turning her head so that the three of them were reflected in the mirror. “Look at her, Dennis. Isn’t she gorgeous? I think I see a little bit of you in her. Is that silly? But her eyes and her nose, that’s all you.”
“Poor, little thing,” Dennis clucked.
“This is exactly what we dreamed of, isn’t it? You, me, and a beautiful little girl with your eyes. It’s not exactly how we expected it to happen, but isn’t it a miracle it’s happening at all?”
“I love seeing you this happy,” Dennis said.
“Why shouldn’t I be? You know, Dennis, I’ve been thinking? Why wait? Why don’t we get married as soon as possible?”
“I’m game,” he laughed. “When did you have in mind?”
Her eyes twinkled merrily, almost giving away the surprise ahead of time. “How about Christmas Day?”
Dennis broke into a grin, picking up Marley and spinning her around, yelling, “Ho-Ho-Ho!” until Daisy gleefully clapped her hands and joined them.
“Zeno didn’t put me up to anything,” Allie reminded her mother. “In fact, he’s pretty furious about the whole thing.”
“Not half as furious as I am,” Amanda said.
“He hates what happened. It’s not what he wanted.”
“Well, then, why doesn’t he do the gentlemanly thing and step up to take the blame?”
“Because that would mean admitting that the charges against him were right. That he is doing something illegal and dangerous. He’s not.”
“So let him prove it in court. But not at your expense.”
“I’m the one who needs to go to court,” Allie explained.
“Why?” Amanda all but screamed.
“Because I’m the story. I am Mac Cory and Rachel Hutchins’ granddaughter. I’m the one who’ll get the press coverage. Which means I’m the one who’ll get to explain the way the county has been jerking Zeno around for years now, just so they could seize his property.”
“So you two did plan for all this to happen?”
“No. But, since it did, I’m trying to make the best of it. Zeno needs support from the community. And the best way to do that is to let people know how unfairly he’s being treated.”
“Even if it means you going to jail?”
“That would be the best-case scenario,” Allie agreed.
“There is no baby,” Olivia said.
Morgan blinked in surprise. “You mean, Jamie isn’t the father?”
“I mean, there’s no baby,” Olivia spoke slowly, as if Morgan were a complete moron. “I’m not pregnant. I never was.”
Understanding dawned in his eyes. “Ah. Yes. A common Bay City malady. I’m always curious just how long you ladies believe you can pull that particular deception off.”
“Obviously, I’m coming up on my sell-by date.”
“Guess it is a little tricky to hold on to a man by giving birth to a bouncing, baby pillow.”
“I have no intention of doing that.”
“Going the black-market baby route, then? Another fine choice. Make sure you get one with an overdeveloped sense of self-righteousness, if you want to pass it off as Jamie’s.”
“I’m not planning on passing off anything as anything. I am planning,” Olivia corrected. “On suffering a tragic miscarriage.”
“My condolences in advance.”
“I don’t need your damn condolences. I need your help. I need a doctor to make this thing legit.”
“Oh, no,” Morgan said. “No way, no how, no deal. A little white lie here and there, a little kiss in the lab – that’s all good, clean, wholesome fun. But, no way am I risking my medical license for your twisted romantic agenda. I am not forging medical records.”
“Who says you have to forge anything? You can keep your precious records pristine. All I need you to do is tell people I had a miscarriage. There’s nothing in the Hippocratic Oath about that, is there?”
“Who are these people you want me to tell?”
“Jamie. Dennis. Marley.”
“What do Dennis and Marley have to do with it?”
“That’s my business.”
“You’re right. It’s your business. So how about you leave me out of it?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. I need a doctor to make what I have in mind legitimate.”
“Well, I don’t need to do what you say.”
“Actually, you do. Because, see, Morgan, if you don’t need to go along with what I’ve got planned, I’m going to need to show those photos that I still have of you and Amanda to Kevin.”
Morgan snorted. “You know, blackmail works both ways. What’s to stop me from going to Jamie and telling him all about this game you’re playing? One visit to the OB with you and he’ll know you’re full of hot air instead of baby.”
“Yeah,” Olivia agreed. “And Jamie will be mad at me. But, he’s already mad at me. I really don’t have that much to lose. You, on the other hand, are an upstanding member of the community – who happens to be screwing another man’s wife. Between the damage Kevin could rain on you legally, and the dirty laundry press coverage… it won’t exactly do wonders for your rep – personal or professional. Besides, whoever she was,” Olivia indicated that Morgan had come in carrying two pairs of skis. And one of them was pink. “She probably won’t appreciate it either.”
Morgan knocked the skis to the ground in frustration. “You really are some piece of work.”
“I’ve had to become one, yes,” she conceded, with a combination of disgust and conceit. “Now, are you in or out?”
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