EPISODE #2009-6

Kirkland had spent twenty minutes cooling his heels in Jamie's office while simultaneously stoking the fire of his righteous indignation. He'd come intending to tell Jamie exactly how uncool he was being about the whole Grant thing, and armed with enough snark to obliterate any lame excuses Jamie might have felt like tossing his way.

But then Jamie finally stepped into his office, and Kirkland saw the look on his face. It was a look Kirkland knew too well, the one that said today Jamie hadn't managed to win one for the good guys.

As a kid, it had taken Kirkland forever to figure out why sometimes Jamie would come home from work monosyllabic and prone to longer, tighter hugs than usual. All Kirkland knew then was that the world refused to feel right until he somehow got Jamie to smile again. Problem was, today Kirkland understood that none of his usual tricks would work. Because today he was part of the problem.

He was part of the reason why Jamie stood so unsteadily on his feet, looking like the universe had knocked him upside the head one too many times.

So instead of breaking out the prepared snark and indignation, Kirk just kept his mouth shut as Jamie tore him a new one for insulting Carl and Rachel, then calmed down and acknowledged that the decision to keep Grant's return from Kirkland had been a bad call on his part. Last but not least, Jamie told Kirkland that he loved him. And then, totally out of left field, Jamie asked, "What exactly do you want to do next, son?"

Crawl under a rock, Kirkland thought. Not have a conversation that will beat you further down into a bloody pulp. Make you smile. Make you laugh. Anything to help you stop hurting.

However, as he was fifteen years old, all those complex thoughts came out as a single, indifferent shrug, followed by a mumbled, "I don't know."

What was even weirder was that it was kind of, sort of, the truth. If Kirkland knew what he really wanted to do he'd be out there doing it, wouldn't he? Not in here pitching a fit like a spoiled six year old.

"I don't believe that," Jamie said.

"It's true," Kirkland insisted as much for his own benefit as Jamie's. "I'm just being stupid. You're tired, you don't need this from me right now. We can talk later. I've got swim practice, I'm gonna get going."

"Okay, now you're scaring me. At least say something snarky so I know you haven't been replaced with a Stepford Child."

"How's this: Since you've acknowledged your monumental wrongness — "

"That's better."

"— And I've graciously accepted your apology — "

"That's good too."

"I am now going to do some deep thinking while I blow Michael Phelps' record out of the water. So to speak."

The corner of Jamie's mouth twitched, like it wanted to smile, but could only manage to move one side, the other being completely unmotivated to so much as try.

"I think Michael Phelps has other things to worry about besides you." Even exhausted and operating on a few hours sleep, Jamie was able to direct Kirkland into a chair with one arm. "Stay," he ordered as he took the chair opposite him. "I appreciate you backing off, but I know you have a lot on your mind and there really isn't going to be a better time to talk about this."

Taking in Jamie's slumped shoulders and haggard face, Kirkland thought that there had to be a better time than this. But the truth was, Kirk did have questions. If he didn't talk to someone soon, his brain, as he'd informed Charlie earlier, really was going to explode and ooze out his ear.

After pondering his options, Kirk finally reminded Jamie, "You're not exactly unbiased in all this, you know."

"I doubt you'll find anyone in Bay City who doesn't have an opinion about Grant," Jamie conceded. "And with good reason. But I promise I will do my best to be as unbiased, though honest, as I can."

"Okay, but remember you asked for it. I was trying to be the better person."

"Duly noted," Jamie nodded, the corner of his mouth tugging upwards again.

"Growing up you had two dads, right? Steve and Mac?"

"Yeah," Jamie nodded. "Steve died when I was young and Mac pretty much adopted me as his own."

"Like me."

"Like you, yes."

"And connecting with Mac didn't change how you felt about Steve, right?"

Jamie nodded again. Kirkland lowered his eyes and took a breath, struggling with what he was about to say. "But if Steve somehow wasn't...if he came back and you had the chance to know him, you'd want to. Wouldn't you?"

It was probably only a few seconds before Jamie finally answered, but in those few seconds Kirkland had kicked himself a million times for what he suspected was a hit below the belt.

"Actually," Jamie said, "My dad did come back from the dead, just like yours."

"For real?"

"I was quite a bit older than you by then, but I still remember how overwhelming it all felt. I did try to get to know him, but he died again — isn't that a weird way to put it? — he died again soon after. So I understand what you're saying. I would love to have known my father better." Kirkland looked up as Jamie leaned towards him, his hand gently tapping Kirk on the knee. "I can understand that's why you want to give Grant a chance. Unfortunately, you don't know him like the rest of us do. You've heard the stories — "

"Exactly," Kirkland nodded. "How can I know what I want to do about my dad when I don't know his side of those stories?"

"Hearing his side is not the same as getting the truth, Kirk. Grant will lie and he will twist everything he did to make himself sound better."

"He says he's changed. That he's not the same douche he was all those years ago. Why are you so sure it can't be true? Why couldn't he have changed? For me? Why can't I be for Grant what Rachel was for Carl or what my mom was for Jake?"

"You could," Jamie nodded. "But that responsibility, the responsibility to be a better man because it's the right thing to do, that's on him, not you. I think that before you jump into anything with Grant, he should prove that he deserves your trust. Grant hurt a lot of people, Kirkland. Especially your mother. He had her committed, framed her for murder, tried to kill her — "

The words were out of Kirkland's mouth before he could stop them. "I know! But a lot of the stuff he did to Mom, he did because of me. Because he didn't want to lose me."

The stricken look on Jamie's face chilled Kirkland to the bone. Suddenly Jamie was no longer tired or frail or beaten. He was lit from within by an anger Kirkland had rarely, if ever, witnessed.

"Kirk, Grant was not and is not the victim in any of this," Jamie said tightly, his teeth clenched so fiercely Kirk felt his own jaw ache. "He was in danger of losing you because of who he is. Selfish and ruthless. The thought of him having any influence over you scared Vicky so much that she switched you with another baby to protect you from Grant."

Kirkland felt his stomach lurch. "She did what?!"

"That's how desperate she was, Kirk. That's how afraid she was for you."

"My mother kidnapped someone else's kid and was going to screw them over so she could stick it to Grant? Remind me again how my dad comes out as the bad guy in all this?"

"She did it because she loved you."

"And Grant pulled his crap because he loved me, too!" Kirkland shot back, still reeling from this latest revelation about his mother. It was getting to be that every time he turned around, another skeleton was falling from the closet. But there was still one more issue to get into the open. Kirkland said, "Grant loved my mom. He told me he loved her more than anyone else ever loved her. And he said you never loved her at all."

"Grant Harrison hadn't even met Vicky when she and I were together, I hardly think his word is sacrosanct on the subject."

"I'm not Steven," Kirkland snapped, "Skip the SAT verbal. I know it's true. You didn't love my mom, just admit it!"

It was a stand-off, with Kirk looking defiantly at Jamie.

"I..." Jamie began, then thought better of it, and sank back into his chair. "I'm sorry, Kirk. I'm sorry for a whole lot of things."

"Aw, hell," Kirkland groaned. "I'm sorry, too. I wasn't trying to hurt you or piss you off."

"You did warn me," Jamie smiled faintly. "And don't worry, you haven't hurt me. You might have pissed me off, but I'm your... "

"Dad," Kirkland finished when Jamie hesitated. "You're my dad. And I'm a jerk."

"I didn't raise a jerk," Jamie exhaled. "A bit of a drama queen maybe. But you come by your tendencies honestly. From your Grandma Love's side of the family."

"I don't have her flair."

"Only a matter of time," Jamie laughed dryly before hoisting himself up from his chair. "Come on, I'll take you to swim practice." He made a move in the direction of the door. When Kirkland refused to budge, Jamie reminded him, "We're not going to figure all this out in one day."

"I guess," Kirkland relented, standing up to face him. "Just promise me, no more secrets."

"No more secrets. On either side."

"When have I not been an open book?" Kirkland beat his dad to the door. "So can we declare this chick flick moment of sharing our feelings, over?"

"Yeah," Jamie laughed, a real laugh with a real smile that made the weight in Kirkland's chest lift away. "This chick flick moment is over."

Jamie dropped Kirkland off at swim practice and, over thirty hours after he'd first left it, finally headed home. He was looking forward to a shower, some food, and a long nap, not necessarily in that order and possibly even all at the same time. What he got, instead, was the sight of his mother kneeling on the floor, surrounded by broken glass, with blood on her hands.

"Mom!" Jamie hurried over. "Are you alright? What happened?"

Rachel looked up, and Jamie realized she'd been crying.

"Hold on. Let me look. How badly are you hurt? This might need stitches." He reached for her hand, but Rachel yanked it back.

"I'm alright," she insisted. "It's just a little superficial cut. No doctor required."

Jamie refused to let go of Rachel's wrist, studying the gash along her thumb with concern. "At least let me clean this out for you. You never know, there could be some shards of glass still left inside."

"You're making a fuss over nothing."

"I'm your son. I'm allowed." Jamie helped Rachel up and led her to the bathroom off the kitchen. As he opened the medicine cabinet and fished around for gauze, tweezers and hydrogen peroxide, he asked, "One of the kids break the window with a ball?"

Rachel winced, then pretended it was from Jamie's prodding of her hand. She admitted, "I did."

"Going out for the team?" Jamie joked, but his grin faded when he saw the anguish in Rachel's eyes. "Mom. Come on, tell me. What's wrong?"

She hesitated, then asked, "Did Kirkland find you at the hospital?"

"Yeah. I think we had a good talk." Jamie shrugged. "Teenagers, you never know."

"Did he tell you what happened with Carl and Grant?"

"He actually left that message on my voicemail, earlier. Kirk claimed Carl was trying to kill — ?"

"He might have, if Kirk hadn't come along."

"Mom...." Jamie couldn't think of anything else to say.

Neither, apparently, could Rachel. She simply shook her head and turned away from her son.

"Mom, you don't think that Carl..."

"I have no idea what to think right now." She cleared her throat in an attempt to pull herself together. "And then, on top of everything, Cass and Lila were here, trying to connect Carl to Felicia's disappearance..."

"What? That's ridiculous. Felicia hasn't had anything to do with Carl since she brought him to Bay City, what? almost twenty-five years ago?"

"Actually, Cass and Lila's accusations went further back then that. They found some evidence, completely circumstantial, of course, but evidence just the same, that Carl is... that he may be... they think Carl might be Jenna Norris' father."

"Wow," Jamie exhaled. "What did Carl say to that?"

"He denied it. He denied it completely. Even when I pressed him on it. He insists he knows nothing about it and that he had nothing to do with Jenna's mother or Jenna, or with Felicia, Jenna and Dean going missing now."

"Do you believe him?"

Rachel said, "I have no logical, rational reason not to."


"But," she conceded. "I can't help thinking... It's not that I would hold it against him if he were Jenna's father. Goodness knows who am I to judge about having children out of wedlock? And I'd have no trouble accepting... You know how much I love Paulina...."

"But..." Jamie repeated.

"But," Rachel sighed. "Knowing how hard Jenna's mother worked to keep her away from Carl — whatever her reason was — it just reminds me of the sort of man he used to be. The kind of man that you'd die to protect your child from."

"A man like Grant," Jamie said grimly. "No wonder they hate each other so much. What's the expression: Takes one to know one?"

"What if it starts all over again?" Rachel asked her son, not really expecting an answer but needing to say the words out loud to someone, if only to shock herself into hearing them. "What if Carl goes after Grant once more? Am I just supposed to stand by and watch as he tries to destroy another human being, even a worthless human being like Grant? How am I going to be able to look Kirk in the eye if he succeeds? And what am I supposed to tell Cory and Elizabeth about their father, then? This time, I'm afraid Carl won't be able to stop himself until Grant is dead, really dead."

"You think Carl is going to go back to his old habits?"

"No," Rachel confessed her deepest secret. "I'm afraid he never gave them up in the first place."

Amanda's goal for the day was to get out of the house and to stay out for as long as possible. Between her mother and Carl sleeping in different rooms, Kirkland's ongoing sulk and Allie's sudden need to whisper secretively into the phone till all hours of the day and night, Amanda figured she deserved a reprieve from the drama.

She grabbed her running gear and headed for Bayside Park to get a little privacy, some exercise... and to avoid thinking about the disconcerting meeting she'd had with Kevin Fowler a few days earlier.

Disconcerting not merely because she was dealing with a flunky of Grant's, but because, in spite of the circumstances, Amanda had liked Kevin. Really liked him. And entertaining an itch to sleep with the enemy, as it were, was the last thing Amanda needed right now. Right now she needed to stay focused on keeping Kevin Fowler away from Jamie and Kirkland, not on how charming she found him or on those confounding, gorgeous, mirror-blue eyes that felt somehow familiar, like she'd met him before in another life, or another equally romantic/equally ridiculous notion.

"Stop it," Amanda scolded herself, shaking her head as she sat up from the grass. She was not going to daydream about a man like some star-struck high school teenager.

She was a grown woman for goodness sake. With a string of failed marriages and relationships — Sam, Evan, Grant, Jake, Cameron — that should have made her much more jaded about love.

Granted, she wasn't so un-jaded as to believe that her attraction to Kevin Fowler was any kind of indication that her soul-mate had come at last. But given that until she'd met him she had been able to bury any kind of yearning or desire for the opposite sex quite deeply and live quite contentedly, the fact that she was now laying in the grass, staring up at the sky as she replayed their last meeting over and over again and remembering those eyes and that smile and how they had made her feel, she knew that something was happening, or at least that she wanted something to happen.

"I'm probably just horny," Amanda muttered, pushing herself up from the grass and dusting off the back of her running shorts.

It had been a while. Maybe all these stirrings and yearnings and desires were just pent up sexual energy trying to find a release. She was obsessing over Kevin Fowler because he just happened to be the thing to set her off.

Now if she could only stop obsessing about him, she'd be just dandy.

You know the way to end an obsession? A voice inside her head suggested. Give in to it!

She chuckled to herself. Right. Like she was going to go to Kevin Fowler and throw herself at him like a desperate cougar.

Why not? The voice inside her head challenged. You saw the way he looked at you.

Amanda paused, groaning to herself. She had seen the way his eyes had taken her in and the memory brought a flush to her face and a smile to her lips.

You're both adults, if you set some ground rules...

She'd never been a fan of one-night stands. Affairs, unfortunately, yes, but not one night-stands. There was a time she'd done the friends with benefits things with Jake and even though that hadn't exactly worked out —

It had been fun! C'mon you're older and wiser now...

"Obviously not," she chastised herself as she stomped off the grass and onto the path that would take her to the park's exit.

"Oh, terrific," Amanda huffed as she glared at the sign posted next to the gate she'd been intending to use for her departure. In clear letters, it reported — no, more like, mocked — that all gates except the main entrance would be operating on summer hours from this weekend on. She must have missed the posting earlier due to her mind being on Kevin Fowler and his stupid impenetrable eyes.

"Stupid Kevin Fowler," she muttered as she turned around and trudged back down the pathway for her long walk to the main gate.

Now the arrogant SOB was making her oblivious and dumb.

You'd be able to focus if you could get him out of your system.

"Shut up," she told herself, or rather told the horny part of her brain. She glanced around, hoping no one heard her, then realized that not only had no one heard her, there was no one in this section of the park at all.

Except her.


Obviously everyone else in Bay City knew how to read signs.

Amanda quickened her pace, making sure she had her cell phone in one hand and her car keys in the other. While Bayside Park wasn't known as a hotbed of crime, she felt that it didn't hurt to be cautious.

Especially since the pathway towards the main gate was leading her into a section of wood so dense, even the midday sun had a tough time penetrating it.

"Keep going," Amanda encouraged herself. "The gate's closer than you think."

Walking along the pathway, she tried to focus on the impressive foliage in order to turn the smothering blanket of overarching leaves and branches into something comforting. But as she listened to the sounds around her, she picked out something off, something wrong.

She heard the chirping of birds, the low hum of buzzing insects, and the soft crunch of her sneakers on the gravel path. And then she heard the crunch of gravel from somewhere else, somewhere behind her, though she was sure that when she entered she'd been the only one in that section of the park.

Unless someone had been hiding. Watching her, seeing that she was alone, being careless, and they waited until she came into the cover of the trees to — She whirled around, keys at the ready, ready to stab and scream at whoever was behind her, but confronted nothing.

She listened for the footsteps, waited for someone to come down the path, hopefully another person who had lost track of time and was looking for a way out, but no one revealed themselves.

"Hello?" she called out. "Is anybody out there?"

Nothing but silence. Actually, that wasn't true. A bird chirped from somewhere in the trees, but she didn't count that since it wasn't all too comforting.

And then she finally heard it again. The footsteps. Only they weren't slow as before, now they were running. Fast. Right at her.

She turned and took off down the path, towards the gate. Having years of experience in being stalked and evading stalkers, she was making pretty good time, too.

But so was whoever was behind her.

Their speed was matching her own, surpassing hers, judging by the sound of the gravel and twigs snapping behind her. She felt her lungs begin to burn, a sick fear setting in as her legs began to cramp, when she saw the final curve in the path that would reveal the main gate and, more importantly, a security guard.

Putting on a final burst of speed, Amanda kept her eye on the curve ahead, coming closer, closer still — Until a hand clamped down on her shoulder, pulling her back.

Letting out a shriek that was unfortunately muffled by the blanket of trees, Amanda swung around, aiming the keys for her attacker's face. A firm hand caught her arm and she angrily brought her knee up, smiling grimly as it connected right where she'd hoped and her assailant groaned and dropped straight down.

"Damn it, Amanda!" growled a familiar voice as she stumbled back to get a better look at her newly hobbled stalker. "What is wrong with you?"

"Grant?" Amanda panted as first confusion, then relief, then anger flooded through her. She'd been hearing about Grant's resurrection for days now. But hearing and knowing were different from actually seeing. There he was, her ex-husband. Alive and kicking. Though clearly not the latter at the moment. Heh. "You were the one stalking me?"

"I would hardly call it stalking," Grant grimaced, still on his knees, head bowed.

"Trust me, I know when I'm being stalked."

She reached out to help him up, then drew back, suddenly suspicious. "So what were you doing out here, then?"

"Running," he groaned again, slowly rising to reveal that he was indeed out for nothing more than an above suspicion, thoroughly wholesome jog. Dressed in an athletic shirt, track pants, and designer sneakers, he was the textbook picture of a man battling the ravages of time.

And not doing a bad job of it.

Seriously? She questioned that inner voice of hers. First Kevin, now Grant? Are you that horny?

"I was just trying to protect myself," Amanda defended self-consciously. "Anyway, if this is all an innocent coincidence, why didn't you answer me when I called out?"

"Probably because of these," he said, holding up his iPod earbuds.

"Oh," was all she said, even as she felt her face begin to burn crimson.

"You look a little flushed, Amanda," Grant smirked, slowly moving towards her. "Why is that?"

"It happens when someone is running for their life," she shot back.

"Why are you denying it?" he said in a low voice, almost on her now, his eyes holding hers as he continued to tease her.

She should back away. She should really, really back away.

"What am I denying?" she scoffed. She saw his delight at the crack in her voice, the break in her facade.

"All this hostility," he smiled down at her. "It's just you trying to hide what you feel for me."

"Which is?"

"You still love me," Grant said simply. "In fact, I seem to recall you once telling me that I was the only man you ever truly loved."

"That was a long time ago. And didn't I mention it as I was dumping you?"

The smirk dropped from his lips and his eyes flared with rage at the reminder of his humiliation at her hands.

"I let you go," Grant boasted. "If I'd still wanted you, I would've had you. Then and now."

"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that," she spat, backing away. Because no way was Amanda about to risk finding out whether or not his assertion was actually true.

"Grant!" A voice called from the shadows, breaking the spell. Amanda was infinitely grateful for the interloper's presence, even before she realized it was Kevin Fowler. And that he looked even better in his running garments than Grant did in his. Which meant Amanda was in even bigger trouble than she'd previously assumed.

Kevin told Grant, "I thought I was right behind you." He approached them both, drenched in sweat but seemingly barely winded. "Till I took a wrong turn and ended up on a totally different track. Hello, Ms. Cory, how are you?"

"Deadly," Grant shifted his weight gingerly from one leg to the next. "I'm afraid you'll have to finish up our run without me," he told Kevin. Then, indicating Amanda warned, "Don't get too close. And wear a cup."

He limped off out of sight.

"Are you alright?" Kevin asked Amanda. "I thought I heard a woman scream earlier."

"Grant has that effect on people."

"You know, Ms. Cory," Kevin proceeded to follow her down the path and out of the park, although she didn't recall asking for an honor guard. "I do hope your conversation with Mr. Harrison had nothing to do with the pending custody case. Any attempt to influence or manipulate Mr. Harrison — "

"Me? Manipulate Grant? That'll be the day!"

" — manipulate Mr. Harrison with your considerable history would be ill advised."

She gaped at him. "Which means what?"

"It means that your attempting to influence Mr. Harrison into changing his mind about pursuing custody of his son through promises of renewing of your previous relationship, could be considered extortion."

"You think I was trying to seduce Grant in the middle of Bayside Park?" she squeaked in outrage. "What kind of woman do you think I am?"

"A woman I am going to have to keep an eye on," he smiled. "Say tomorrow night? Over dinner?"

"What?" Amanda frowned, thrown at the sudden shift in topic. "Why would I want to do that? More importantly, why would you want to do that?"

"Because I'd prefer you to charm, cajole, and/or tease any tactical information about your brother's case from me, rather than from my client. Shall we say, eight o'clock?"

"How do I know you're not using me for something?"

He flashed a confident, easy smile. "Ms. Cory, I have no reason to use you. You have no bearing on the outcome of this case."

She didn't know whether she should be relieved or insulted. "Then why are you asking me out?"

"My agenda for the evening, besides protecting my client from your advances — "

"I am not trying to seduce Grant!"

"— Is that I believe I would enjoy your company. I certainly am now."

She searched his face for any sign of deceit or lies, but all she saw was that smile and those eyes that made her feel anything but wary. He'd said he was enjoying her company. But he'd also said he was trying to distract her from making any headway in helping Jamie. Well, he'd underestimated her. She would go out with him. But only in order to get him to slip up and give her something to help Jamie with. And smack Grant another knee to the proverbial crotch.

If Amanda happened to have a great time with Kevin in the process, it would just be icing on the cake. Ipso facto.

Jamie finished bandaging his mother's hand and suggested that she lay down for a while to rest; blood loss could be disorienting. Rachel assured Jamie that she would, then promptly walked off in the opposite direction of her bedroom, suggesting that perhaps she wasn't being exactly honest about taking his advice. At one point, Jamie might have followed her and insisted, but his watchword for the day was to let people make their own decisions. It wasn't Jamie Frame's job to facilitate everyone. No matter how much the unrepentant do-gooder in him may have wanted to do just that.

He was headed up the stairs for that long-postponed shower and nap, when he bumped into Matt hurrying down.

The two hadn't spoken since their fight over Kirk/Grant/Mitch/Donna/ everything else their debacle had devolved into days earlier. And Matt didn't look particularly eager for the silent state of affairs to end. He brushed past Jamie with a half-hearted 'Hey,' not even looking him in the eye. It was Jamie who made the effort to grab his brother by the shoulder and turn him around.

"Hey, Matt," Jamie said.

"Sorry, man, got to motor." Matt called up the stairs, "Jazz Rack, get a move on, we're going to be late." The nickname was a composite of his daughter's many names: Jasmine Rachel Cassandra. A.k.a Jazz Rack.

"I'll be quick," Jamie said. "I want to apologize about the other night."

"No sweat. Already forgotten."

"Somehow I doubt that."

"Look, Jamie, we're cool, okay? Everyone's entitled to their opinion, Kirk is your son, you do what you think is best."

"That's not how you felt about it before."

"Live, learn, grow, hope, change, you know the drill. Jazz Rack, come on!" Matt's ultimate summons finally succeeded in bringing his daughter to the top of the stairs. He snatched her by the hand and took off, only reminding Jasmine to, "Say bye to Uncle Jamie," once they were practically out the door.

At ten years old, Jasmine Cory was, even her father had to admit it, a miniature Lila, down to the cascades of dark hair, the batting gray eyes, and the Southern accent that came and went depending on the level of charm a given situation required. But then, just when Matt would start to think that there was nothing of him in her at all, Jasmine would commence lecturing him that while Rolling Stone Magazine may have certified Elvis Presley's That's Alright, Mama to be the first rock and roll song the honor really belonged to Ike Turner's Rocket 88, or she would observe that The Jonas Brothers, any trendy boy band really, including The Beatles, were just copying The Comedian Harmonists, an all-male German harmony ensemble that took Europe by storm between the World Wars.

Almost twenty years after Matt first launched D&M Productions with Dean Frame, and over ten years following his attempt to recreate that initial success with C Squared, Matthew had fathered himself a pint-sized music geek.

Personally, Matt couldn't have been happier with the development. He was ready to give Jasmine her own record label and step back to see what she came up with. It was Lila who insisted that their daughter's interest was unladylike, not to mention unproductive. Lila would have preferred Jasmine's hobbies to include horseback riding, tennis, sailing, croquet — pursuits that would allow her to mingle with others of her class and social standing. The only reason she'd even approved of Jasmine taking up fencing was because Matt told her Donna had registered Bridget and Michelle, and that it was the fastest-growing sport among the upper classes in America. The first part was true. The second, Matt had no idea about. But as long as Jasmine fenced, Lila laid off her about trying those other activities, for which the girl was grateful enough to keep diligently wielding her saber every weekend.

Matt figured he must have broken a few land-speed records getting Jasmine to the Love mansion on time. Bridget and Michelle were already standing at the end of the drive, both dressed in their competitive fencing gear. As toddlers, the pair had been blonde like their mother. But with the passage of time, their hair darkened, until it was closer to Jake's shade. Their eyes, however, were still as crystal clear blue as Vicky's, making for a striking combination, especially when set off against the head to toe, sparkling white uniforms.

Matt pulled up, parked his car, and had barely finished unloading all of Jasmine's equipment when Gregory Hudson pulled up. The teen was supplementing his scholarship at Bay City University by coaching fencing on the side, and he'd agreed to drive all three of his pupils to their meet in Chicago.

"Have a great time," Matt waved to the girls as Gregory pulled away in his van. He told the boy, "Say hi to your Mom and Dad for me."

Matt waited until the car and passengers were completely out of sight, and then he waited for another few minutes in case any of the girls had forgotten something. Only then, with the coast seemingly clear, did Matt turn around and jog up the steps to the front porch of the Love house. The door was unlocked. He let himself in, then locked it behind him.

Double-checking to make sure nobody was around, Matt took the stairs two at a time, passing by several bedrooms along the second-floor hallways before locating the one he wanted.

Inside, Donna reclined on the bed, wrapped in a black silk sheet. And nothing else.

She saw Matt come in, smiled, and pulled back the sheet. "En garde!"

Grant was enjoying a much-earned glass of scotch after a much-needed shower when his cell phone rang.

"Yes," he exhaled, knowing exactly who was on the other end.

"We're good to go. Thanks for the help."

"Considering the indignity I suffered at the hands — or rather the knees — of Amanda Cory, I should hope you would be successful."

Kevin assured him, "Amanda is our way in to the entire family."

"I have no interest in the family. I want my son, that's it. The rest of them can rot in hell for all I care."

"Just keep taking my advice, Grant, and we'll both get what we're after."

"Well, Matthew, was I right?" Donna purred as they lay draped across each other, the black sheet now crumpled on the floor atop Matthew's discarded clothing.

"You were right. I definitely enjoyed..." Matt dipped his head and whispered in Donna's ear, getting a kick out of the fact that saying the words could make Donna blush, while actually doing the deed had elicited an entirely different reaction.

"Naughty boy," she pretended to slap him and turn away in a pout. "I meant, was I or was I not right when I said that the only time our relationship ever worked was when we kept it a complete secret, so why not go back to those days?"

"Oh, yeah," Matt recalled. "I guess you were right about that, too."

"Brilliant of you to suggest signing all the girls up for lessons at the same time."

"We were just lucky they took to fencing. Soon as one of them gets bored and wants to try something else, it's all over."

"Nonsense. It will simply force us to become more creative. For instance..." Now it was Donna's turn to whisper in Matt's ear. And for him to blush.

He was just about to suggest they stop speaking softly and cut straight to carrying the big stick, when the doorbell rang downstairs.

Matt popped up, startled, fumbling for a sheet that was no longer there. "Who the heck is that?" he demanded. "I thought you said Marley was going to be out all day?"

"Marley wouldn't need to ring the bell," Donna pointed out reasonably. She got up and reached for her robe, an Asian-inspired red kimono with golden dragons embroidered along the sweeping cuffs.

"Just ignore it," Matt urged.

"It must be important. Otherwise they would have merely called. I know whenever I take the trouble to travel to somebody's home, I expect to be admitted no matter what."

"That's because you are an unparalleled individual. "

"I'll be back in a jiffy." Donna leaned over to kiss Matt. "Don't start without me."

He considered what they'd begun and observed, "I don't think that's possible."

She wagged her finger at him, donned slippers that matched her robe and headed down the stairs.

Cass and Lila were standing on her front porch.

Donna opened the door just a crack, hoping to hide her unconventional daywear behind it.

"Did we wake you up?" Lila blurted. "Its practically afternoon."

Donna coughed discreetly. "I was feeling a bit under the weather."

"This won't take long," Lila said and pushed her way in. Cass followed, looking both sheepish and impressed.

Donna watched them both head for her living room and decided that the exercise would probably end quicker if she just went along with the program. After Cass and Lila had left the foyer, she heard a noise from the top of the stairs and turned to see Matthew standing there, wearing just slacks and an unbuttoned shirt, and mouthing "Lila?!" in exaggerated horror, followed by an even more frantic, "Get rid of them." Donna wiggled her fingers dismissively and gestured for him to get back into bed. She'd be up in a moment.

"What can I do for you?" Donna asked with as much grace as she could muster under the circumstances, taking a seat on a couch across from Cass and Lila and making sure to block their view of anything but the immediate vicinity.

"We wanted to ask you about a former employee of yours," Cass said. "Gloria Norris?"

"Gloria Norris?" Donna repeated.

"Jenna's mama," Lila said. "Carl told us she used to work for you?"

"Why in the world were the two of you talking to Carl about Gloria Norris?"

"It's a long story," Cass began. "Felicia went to New York to spend Easter with Jenna and Dean. She called me a few days before the holiday to say there was something very important she needed to talk to me about. I called her back, but she never answered. And then suddenly her phone was out of range and I haven't been able to track her down since. Lila and I went to check out Jenna and Dean's apartment, and we found Gloria's death certificate. Looked like Jenna ordered it from the Records Bureau a few months ago."

"That's certainly peculiar."

"That's what we thought," Lila agreed. "So then we went to that Convent where Jenna grew up, and Principal Nun told us she hadn't heard from Felicia or Jenna, but it was a lie. Cass and I looked at Jenna's file — "

"The principal gave you access to confidential student files? That's highly irregular. You know, I was considering sending Bridget and Michelle to Sacred Heart for Middle School, but if that's the way they run their operation -- "

"She wasn't exactly the one who granted us access," Cass said. "The point is, we saw Jenna's Admission Application, and it said that, under no circumstances, was Jenna allowed to have contact with Carl Hutchins."

"I don't understand," Donna looked from one to the other. "What does any of this have to do with me?"

"Well, according to Carl, his only connection to Gloria was through you."

"And my only connection to Gloria ended over thirty years ago when she left my employee."

"In 1972?"

"That sounds vaguely right."

"Jenna was born in 1973."

"Really? Well, if Gloria was pregnant in those last few months, I certainly didn't know about it. Carl and I were living in England, and when our marriage ended I set off to travel the Continent. I suppose Gloria could have stayed on to be with him. She was hardly obligated to let me in on her plans."

"Actually, Gloria returned to Bay City. Jenna was born at the Convent where she later ended up going to school. I handled her adoption for Felicia, I saw the original birth certificate."

"I'm sorry, Cass," Donna leaned forward, hoping to indicate that the interview was at an end and they'd best both leave. "But I truly don't understand the point of this conversation. I have no idea where Felicia and Jenna might be, and I don't see how rehashing my brief acquaintance with Gloria Norris will help the pair of you figure it out, either."

"Was that really all it was? A brief acquaintance? You and Gloria never saw each other again once you both ended up in Bay City?"

"Oh, well, she became an editor at Cory Publishing, did she not? I believe that was always her ambition. She just worked for me to get some personal assistant experience that she could then use to get her foot in the door of a major book house. I do believe, yes, I did run into her once or twice while I was redecorating the Cory offices. We had very little to say to each other. I knew she and Felicia were friends, and that Jenna was her daughter."

"Did you know Gloria wasn't Jenna's biological mother?"

From the look on Cass' face, Donna suspected that while Cass had known the above fact, he hadn't known that his wife was planning to reveal it to the world.

"I don't understand," Donna said. "Didn't you just ask me if Gloria was pregnant while she worked for me?"

"She had this disease that made it impossible for her to have babies," Lila explained.

"Another piece of information I certainly wasn't aware of. I'm sorry, Cass, do you inquire into the reproductive particulars of your secretaries?"

"It just doesn't add up, that's all," Lila said. "We thought maybe you could help us put the pieces together."

"Frankly, you know more than I do about Gloria Norris' personal life at this point," Donna said. "I've honestly told you everything I remember."

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