“Grant?” Morgan did a double-take. First, to confirm that the presumed dead man was, in fact alive. Again. And second as understanding dawned about what exactly Lila was implying. “You and Grant are…”
“Yes,” Lila leapt up from her desk to fly around it and across the room, attaching herself to Grant’s arm like a passionate barnacle. “We are.”
“We are,” Grant echoed dutifully, like Morgan, piecing details together as he went along, operating from the position that whatever Lila needed of him, he’d back up first and ask questions about later.
“What?” Morgan did his best to keep up. “Were you two planning to run off together or something? Is that why that whole Death by Drowning charade?”
“Lila’s and my plans, past or future, are none of your concern,” Grant said curtly. While Lila surreptitiously beamed at him in gratitude. One thing you could say for her pal, he was damn handy to have around when the situation called for on the spot dishonesty.
Morgan looked from one to the other, shaking his head in disgust, allegedly at Lila’s behavior, but really at himself for having been so taken in by it and unable to miss the parallel to his long-ago relationship with Lorna.
“The pair of you deserve each other,” he spat, stalking off in a huff.
“That’s nice of you to say!” Grant called after the good doctor, just starting to enjoy himself now that he’d gotten the lay of the land.
“My hero,” Lila huffed as she feigned collapsing into a dead faint, one arm draped dramatically over her brow, onto the couch in her office.
He plopped down next to her. “My pleasure. Care to tell me what it was all about? So that my future heroics might be better informed?”
“Morgan and I, we were – we were in the process of starting… something. Then, out of the blue, he drops me. No explanation, no nothing. Turns out Amanda found… she found out something I’d rather not have publicized – “
It was a measure of what a gentleman Grant was that he didn’t ask what. He figured that could come at a later date. “ – And she blackmailed Morgan to keep his distance from me.”
“Ha!” Grant snorted. “Who’d have thought that little drama queen I married had it in her?”
“Seems she didn’t, ‘cause couple of months down the road, she changed her mind, told Morgan to go ahead and do whatever he wanted. He, of course, scurried straight down here to tell me the good news.”
“Like he expected you to be sitting around, twiddling your thumbs, waiting for him?”
“Exactly! How insulting, right?”
“He should have told you right away, let you take it up with Amanda.”
“That’s what I said!” Lila exclaimed triumphantly.
“So that’s why you told him you’d moved on? With me?”
“Do you mind?” Lila asked sheepishly. “You know how word travels in Bay City, and if Sarah hears – “
“Sarah,” Grant said. “Is embroiled in her own complicated state of affairs.” He put extra emphasis on the last word and turned to look at Lila. “I was told you could confirm what she confessed to me about her and – ”
Lila cringed, venturing, “Kirkland?”
He sighed in defeat. “So it’s true…”
“It’s why I dragged the two of them out to see you,” she confided. “I just wanted to hit Kirkland where it hurt for making my poor Jasmine cry. Best way I could think of to do it was show him he’d been screwing his daddy’s wife. Figured Sarah deserved an eyeful, too.”
“You’ve got a well developed sense of poetic justice.”
“You know,” Lila considered. “I expected you to be a hell of a lot madder about all this.”
“You’re the only friend I’ve got left, Lila, I’d be fool to risk that. Especially,” Grant paused. Grant pausing was never, ever a good thing. Especially when he had that smile on his face. “Not when you and I are so perfectly poised to help each other out.”
“How do you figure?”
“You want to show Morgan that you weren’t exactly letting grass grow under your feet while he was out protecting poor, shrinking violet you from big, bad Amanda Cory. And I think it’s about time Sarah got a reality lesson about how she isn’t the only fish in the sea where I’m concerned.”
“One more time, Grant. In English.”
“How would you like to join forces to make Morgan and Sarah realize what they’re missing? And to teach Bay City a little lesson about what happens when it takes the two of us for – if you’ll forgive the pun – granted?”
Charlie decided that only Cory Hutchins could make registering for a motel room that charged by the hour seem like an utterly normal, respectable, even dignified thing to do. He’d driven Charlie over from the BCU campus, making small talk about nothing in particular along the way, then escorted her into the lobby, opening and holding the door for her, acting like they were coming to a ball, instead of for an illicit quickie.
Because, make no mistake about it, that was exactly what they were here for. Cory knew it. Charlie knew it, too. In some ways, she’d known it months ago, when he’d first kissed her back at the Cory Mansion, that it – they – were destined to end up like this.
She knew she should be feeling guilty. She was cheating on Elizabeth. Cory was too, in a way. And yet, Charlie understood the shaking assaulting her body had nothing to do with shame or remorse. And everything to do with excitement.
It only got worse – better? Definitely better – once she and Cory were inside the motel room and he kissed her again. Just like before, only more, much, much more, until her legs gave out from under her and he caught her, moving Charlie to the bed, peeling off her clothes, his hands sizzling on her bare skin, his lips moving from her mouth to her throat to her shoulders and her neck and everywhere else.
Vaguely, Charlie thought of Kirkland, who really had tried his best, but whose eager fumbling she mostly recalled now with a clinical detachment, as if what the two of them had attempted bore no resemblance to the sensations Cory was stirring within her now.
She thought of Zeno. Certainly more experienced, but, in that case, he’d been the one detached, as if sex with Charlie were something he was engaging in almost against his will, a duty to be fulfilled, moves to be made, reactions to be gotten, boxes to be checked off and then he could call it a day.
And, of course, with Elizabeth, it was a case of the blind leading the very blind. Charlie thought she’d lacked experience, having, more or less, fallen back on what she’d gleaned from Zeno when it came to making love with Elizabeth. But Elizabeth was truly clueless. Everything – as in absolutely everything – was new to her and, as a result, tentative and awkward and, thought Charlie denied it strenuously even to herself, ultimately extremely unsatisfying. She kept waiting for things to get better, for them both to become more comfortable with each other. Charlie told herself it would take time.
It took no time with Cory.
He’d zeroed in on precisely what Charlie wanted, on what she needed, even before she knew she wanted it or that she’d ever needed it.
Somehow, he’d managed to take the lead while still making it all about Charlie.
And she never, ever wanted him to stop.
It took Marley most of the night to decide whether or not she really wanted to do this but, by morning, she’d come to the conclusion that she had no choice in the matter. Not if she ever wanted to see Dennis again.
So bracing herself for horrors she couldn’t yet even imagine, Marley rang Iris’ doorbell, filling Dennis’ mother in on Daisy’s return – and Dennis’ continued absence.
“What does Sarah have to say about this?” Iris demanded, swallowing disappointment at the fact that her granddaughter hadn’t seen fit to fill Iris in herself.
“She claims she doesn’t know anything about it. And that she doesn’t care. She has Daisy back, that’s all that matters.”
“Nonsense. Dennis is her father. She loves him.”
“Sarah has a pretty full plate right now. Grant is back, too.”
“Of course,” Iris sighed. She should have known his permanent departure was too good to be true. “And I suppose Sarah has accepted whatever pabulum of an excuse he’s fed her this time and fallen back into his arms, as she always does?”
“Not exactly. Seems that spot has been filled.”
Iris’ eyes narrowed. “Do tell.”
“Sarah is now dating… Kirkland.”
“Oh, good Lord! First Steven, then Grant, now Kirkland? Is she unaware that there are other families in Bay City?”
“I’m not really the best person to speak to that.”
“Ah, yes. Jake, Jamie, Grant… your own record is equally ample.”
“I’m here to talk about Dennis. He’s still out there. I presume you’d like to find him as much as I do.”
“More. Remember, my dear, while Dennis is merely one in your long, long line of conquests, he is my only son.”
“You have connections, Iris. You can ask around.”
“You believe I haven’t done so already?”
“You’re going to try again,” Marley ordered. “And this time, I’m going to be with you every step of the way.” She smiled brightly. “For moral support.”
“You made your point,” Matt informed Donna the next morning after they’d made love.
“And here I was going to say the same thing about you,” she purred languidly.
He laughed, rolling over on his back and elaborating, “Last night. You made your point. I’ve been spending too much time with Mom ever since she got home from the hospital.”
“Why, Matthew, I didn’t say any such thing!”
“To me. You didn’t say it to me. But, I hear you’ve been running around town trying to recruit cannon fodder for your Rescue Matt From Rachel Army.”
“I may have spoken to a few people…”
“Jamie. Lorna. Mom…”
“What did she tell you?” For the first time, Donna looked worried.
“Nothing,” he assured her. “Though the act you two put on over dinner… I’m surprised she didn’t offer to cut your meat for you.”
“Rachel knows I’d never let her anywhere near me with a knife.”
“And I expected you to volunteer to tuck her into bed.”
“I was just trying to be kind. After all, the sooner Rachel recovers from her horrific ordeal, the sooner – “
“She’ll leave me alone?”
“Your mother’s health is my only concern,” Donna said primly, smoothing down the sheets.
“I love Mom,” Matt said.
“Of course. You’re a wonderful son.”
“But I love you, more.”
Donna opened her mouth, then closed it again, truly speechless for one of the rare times in her life.
“You are my priority. You and Jasmine. And I know you’re not threatened by her.”
“I love Jasmine,” Donna said sincerely, finding the topic of her stepdaughter easier to broach than her own.
“I won’t allow anyone to come between us. Not even Mom. Right now, she needs me. She feels like all her children have abandoned her, except for me. She’s desperate for something to hold onto. But, it won’t be forever. My goal is to help Mom get back on her feet, and then everything will go back to the way it was before. Except maybe – just maybe – I won’t be at the bottom of the totem pole, for a change.”
“Your mother has never appreciated you, Matthew,” Donna swore, more offended for his sake than she was afraid of the situation changing and Matt becoming lost to her forever. “She has never put you first. It was always Jamie and Amanda, and then Carl’s children came along. Goodness, sometimes I think she treated Sandy and Paulina, who weren’t even her own blood, with more consideration that she did you.”
He shrugged. “I made the mistake of having the wrong father.”
“That’s what I was afraid of, darling. I was afraid of it happening anew. Of Rachel casting you
aside the moment Jamie deigns to grace her with his presence again, or Amanda relents and allows Rachel back into Cory Publishing.“
“It doesn’t matter,” Matt cut her off. “Listen to me, it really doesn’t. Have I enjoyed having Mom’s attention to myself these past few weeks? Sure. The novelty was kind of fun. But I’m not getting used to anything. I know she can – and probably will – drift off again as soon as she feels a little more settled. And that’s okay. I don’t need her. I don’t need anybody else, Donna, as long as I have you.”
“Does that mean I can stop being nice to your mother?”
“Please do. You’re scaring me.”
“My husband won’t take on the case,” Frankie informed the new president of BCU, Rowena Clarke, a woman she was pleased to see was about her own age, and thus hopefully of similar sensibility. “But the university can still censor GQ Todd over his rape of Allie Fowler Tantalus.”
“Why won’t your husband prosecute the case?”
“Not enough evidence for a Grand Jury,” Frankie dismissed as if that were of no relevant consequence. “However, the burden of proof is different when it comes to a university disciplinary committee, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, different standards are applied.”
“Certainly, you have a policy against teachers sleeping with students.”
“We do. However, Ms. Fowler – “
“Mrs. Tantalus was not a student of Mr. Todd’s.”
“She was a young girl, on your campus, taken advantage of in her inebriated state. That makes what happened to her your responsibility.”
“Is Allie ready to come forward and make this complaint?”
Frankie ignored the question to stress, “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what is going on at college campuses all across the country. Girls’ complaints being dismissed, their being forced to attend class alongside their rapists, police departments covering up evidence so as not to
bench a star athlete or tarnish a perfect academic record. Do you really want BCU to be a part of that? Wouldn’t you rather lead the charge for justice?”
“Has Allie filed a police report?”
“No. As I said, my husband declined to bring the case to trail.”
“Be that as it may, she still needs to take that step. Once her accusation has formally been investigated and dismissed by the police, only then can we take it to the disciplinary committee. Rape, after all, is a criminal matter. It’s best settled by criminal courts.”
“You are fully aware of what a girl’s word is worth in court. I was married to a defense attorney, I know how they operate. They’ll twist and distort everything Allie says. They’ll drag her past relationship with GQ into it, and, at the end, they’ll have her convinced that she’s the one to blame, not him. They’ll have her saying the sex was completely consensual and she’ll be the one forced to issue an apology. That’s precisely what I’m trying to avoid with Allie. She needs support and help to accept what’s happened. She’ll never get that from going to the police. BCU stepping in is the only chance at healing she’s got.”
“What’s wrong, Carl?” Rachel took a seat across from her husband, using the prison phone to communicate. “I came as soon as I could. What’s so urgent? Are you alright?”
He smiled at her weakly, eyes just beginning to mist at the corners. He wiped them away hurriedly, lest Rachel see.
“I have something important to tell you,” he began. “It may sound odd, at first, but, I beg of you, please, hear me out. This is something I feel I must do, and it concerns you, most of all.”
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