Donna told herself that she had made an infinitely reasonable decision. Matthew’s theory that they ought to use Anna’s shameless flirting against her was sound. It made perfect sense for Matthew to go over there, alone, and see if he could seduce some answers about Carl and the clinic out of Donna’s old school chum. Donna unreservedly agreed with his course of action.
Why then, did she feel a mad urge to pick up a nearby lamp and fling it at the wall?
She believed that Matthew didn’t actually intend to sleep with the woman. He only intended to make Anna think he’d sleep with her. So she’d be more forthcoming.
He might have to kiss her, of course. Donna could live with that.
Perhaps an amorous embrace or two. That didn’t mean anything.
Matthew wasn’t being unfaithful, he was being creative, thinking outside the box. Donna was very proud of him.
She eyed the lamp again.
Truth was, Donna couldn’t exactly begrudge him this adventure.
In light of what she’d told him about her own wanton youth, it was hardly Donna’s place to object when Matthew wished to do much less, and for a much greater cause, to boot.
But, what if… What if Matthew, despite multiple pleas to the contrary, was upset to learn just how loose Donna had once been? And what if he decided – just when Anna was being her most… persuasive – that what was good for the goose, was good for the gander, as well?
Donna trusted Matt, of course, she did. That incident with Olivia had been her fault as much as his.
Just like this would be.
Donna eyed the hotel’s bedside clock. Why was this taking so long? Matthew should have been back by now. Anna must have either given up the information at this point, or she never would, so why beat a dead horse?
Horses… geese… ganders… Donna knew she was particularly upset when even her inner thoughts resorted to clichés.
In any case, where was he?
Her phone rang. Matt’s number.
Donna snatched it up.
But, it wasn’t Matt on the phone.
It was Anna. And she sounded hysterical.
Donna couldn’t imagine what Matthew might have done that would leave a woman hysterical.
“Oh, darling; darling Donna, I am so, so sorry!” Anna blubbered.
Donna’s blood ran cold. What had both of them done?
“I didn’t mean it,” she insisted. “I didn’t realize…”
“What?” Donna all but shrieked. “What’s happened?”
“What about Matthew?”
“I’m afraid he’s dead!”
“We used to live here?” Lorna looked around the guesthouse critically.
“Not exactly,” Jamie said. “You did. I… visited. Often.”
“I bet,” Lorna snorted. Then wondered, “Why did you want me to see it?”
“I thought you might like to stay here again.”
“So that you could… visit?” She raised an eyebrow.
“So you could get out from under my mother’s roof. You must be going pretty stir-crazy by now.”
She’d confessed as much to Grant, earlier, but Lorna was damned if she’d do the same with Jamie. “I’m fine.”
They both knew she was lying, yet Jamie declined to press the point. Instead, he asked, “But how long can you go on living there? Have you given any thought to what you might do in the future? Not just where you’ll live, but where you’ll work…”
“I work for Carl.”
“Doesn’t mean you have to do everything with him.”
“Is that your way of asking if we’re sleeping together?”
As that was so not what he’d been insinuating, Jamie could only blink in surprise in lieu of replying and stammer, “N-No. No. Why would you ask that?”
“Because I don’t believe anybody can be as cool as you’re pretending to be. Well, not if you care as much as you claim to. I mean, I get why you kept it together in front of Morgan the other day. You didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of thinking he’d gotten to you. But Carl isn’t here. Nobody’s here, except for the two of us. Go ahead, let ‘er rip. Ask me anything. I’ll tell you the truth. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
“No,” Jamie said, even more calmly than before.
“I don’t believe you,” Lorna challenged, provoking him deliberately, though uncertain as to her own motivation for doing it. “It doesn’t add up. You spout all that romantic bull-shit about how in love the two of us were, but then, when you catch me kissing another guy or we talk about me sleeping with someone else, it’s like you couldn’t care less. Pick an act and stick with it, would you, dude?”
“I don’t need an act,” Jamie said, approaching her. “I used to be one of those guys who flew off the handle at every little thing. It didn’t exactly work out well for me.”
“At least it proved you cared!”
“I have other ways,” he told her softly, standing barely an inch from Lorna now. “I don’t need to go Neanderthal to prove how much I love you. And you don’t need it from me. You never did. We got each other, Lorna. We trusted each other. I told you once that you knew everything there was to me. And that I knew every inch of you.” Moving slowly, almost hypnotically, Jamie tugged at Lorna’s blouse, loosening it from the skirt she was wearing and brushing his fingers against her bare stomach, prompting Lorna to gasp in response. “You see these,” he caressed the still faintly visible crimson lines that dotted her otherwise perfectly toned flesh. “Stretch marks. From Devon and Zee. You called them your battle scars.”
Lorna didn’t say anything to that. She couldn’t. Neither could Jamie. Instead, he merely dipped his head, placing his lips where his fingers had been, kissing each one of the faded blemishes in a straight, tender line across her abdomen, while Lorna attempted to control the shivers his action sent up and down her spine… and everywhere else.
She could only take it for so long before grabbing Jamie by the chin and yanking him harshly upwards. They stood face to face again, both of them breathing heavily, both of them waiting.
Lorna pulled Jamie to her, kissing him even as she was reaching for the buttons of his shirt, all but ripping it open. He responded by slipping Lorna’s blouse up over her head, the pair of them stumbling towards the bed, shedding excess clothing as they went.
“Tell me what you want,” Jamie urged Lorna, wondering if she’d remember her own words from a lifetime ago. “Tell me what you like, tell me what you need.”
“You,” she answered, but whether or not Lorna was aware of the duplication, Jamie couldn’t tell. “The only thing I need is you.”
“Done,” he swore.
She heaved him to her and on top of her, urging, “Now. Go ahead. I’m ready now.”
But Jamie only shook his head, telling Lorna, “I’ve waited a hell of a long time for this. And I intend to enjoy every… single… moment...”
She groaned in frustration, but the irritation soon turned to whimpers of pleasure as Jamie proved good at his word, running his mouth, his tongue, his hands over every inch of her, kissing each of the vertebra along Lorna’s spine, nuzzling her neck, sucking first one nipple, then the other, then both at the same time, burying his face between her thighs and moving up into the core of her until Lorna was screaming his name, digging her fingers into his hair, first commanding him not to stop, then begging him… please… please, don’t stop… She felt herself burning and melting and he plunged inside her, making her shudder instantly even as she marveled, “Damn it, you’re hard.”
“Nothing,” Jamie panted into her ear. “Nothing makes me harder than going down on you.”
She lost control again at his words, her legs tightening around his hips, her nails slicing through the skin of his shoulders, actually drawing blood as Lorna cried out and clung to Jamie with all her might, thinking, if only for the moment, this moment, that she never, ever wanted to let go.
“Kirkland!” Grant smiled broadly. “What a nice surprise! Come in!”
“I talked to Carl,” Kirkland said, not nearly as pleased to be having this conversation.
“Whatever for? Honestly, son, you know I’m hardly Jamie’s biggest fan, but considering what that man did to Jamie and Lorna, I’m shocked you’d want to have anything to do with him.”
“Grandma says Carl saved Lorna’s life,” Kirkland dismissed that part of his father’s argument as not even being worth going over, under the circumstances. “Innocent until proven guilty, remember? You certainly expect me to believe that about you.”
“I don’t understand.” Grant tried to beckon the boy deeper into the house, but Kirkland held his ground.
“That badge of Ryan’s you gave me. Carl says Mom gave it to you years ago. Right after Ryan died. So you could give it to Carl.”
“Carl is an old man,” Grant began feebly. “He’s confused…”
“Did you give Carl Ryan’s badge like Mom wanted?” Kirkland demanded.
“I – “
“Yes or no, Grant?”
“No,” he admitted.
“But, you did give him a badge. He showed it to me.”
“Yes,” Grant sighed tiredly.
“What was that one? Something you got out of a Crackerjack box?”
“More or less.”
“Why? Why would you do something like that?”
“Because Ryan was my brother!”
“He was Carl’s son!”
“For a whole ten minutes! Ryan and I grew up together. He was a Harrison. Damn it, Kirkland, you have no problem cutting me out of your life and claiming Jamie as your real father, so why can’t you understand why I’d feel the exact same way about Ryan?”
“I understand why you feel that way. It’s the lying I’m not thrilled about it.”
“Oh, can it,” Grant snapped, the juvenile retort sounding harsher than anything he’d previously said to the boy. “You’re not a child, anymore. You’re a man. And a man should be able to recognize that the world isn’t just black and white, right or wrong. No matter what your precious, real father says. I can’t win with you, can I? I try my best to do the right thing, to make everyone happy, and all I get in return is grief from both sides. You’re a hypocrite, Kirkland. You say blood doesn’t matter where Jamie is concerned, then turn around and claim the opposite with Carl. There is nothing analogous about the two situations. Except that, in both cases, I come off as the bad guy.”
“You lied,” Kirkland reminded.
“So what?” Grant exploded. “So the hell what? I lied to Carl. A man who made my mother leave me when I was just a little boy, who got my father killed, who stole my brother, who ruined my political career. Yes, I lied to him. But you… all I wanted was to make you happy! I wanted to give you something that once belonged to a man who we both know you’d also have preferred for your father instead of me. I wanted to tell you that I loved you and that I was proud of you and that I would always have your back, no matter what your last name or whom you called Dad. And you couldn’t even give me that much. You had to find some way to twist even that loving gesture into more proof that I wasn’t worthy of your treating me like a human being. And that I never would be.”
“I didn’t go looking for proof,” Kirkland corrected, attempting to stay calm in the face of his father’s tantrum. “It found me. As usual.”
“As usual,” Grant mimicked Kirkland’s tone. “You think you know everything about me. You think you know me. You think you understand why I do what I do. You don’t understand a damn thing. None of you do. None of you ever did. I got so used to all you holier-than-thou types telling me who I was and what I was about that I actually started to believe you. I believed you when you said the best thing I’d ever done as your father was leaving you to Jamie. And I believed Lorna when she said – “
“Lorna?” Kirkland’s head jerked up. “What about Lorna?”
“Forget it,” Grant spat. “I am done. I am done being lectured to and listening to people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Hell, you can’t even keep your own stories straight. You’re all allowed to shift alliances on a whim, so why shouldn’t I be? You came here to rake me over the coals again, son? Save it. I won’t be your moral punching bag anymore. Not yours, not anyone else’s.”
“What is wrong with me?” Olivia demanded of Dennis, showing up on his doorstep without warning and pushing her way inside.
“Would you like that list chronological or alphabetical?” her ex wondered idly, then saw the look on Olivia’s face and realized she was in no mood for their patented masochistic banter. Olivia actually looked… hurt. Genuinely hurt. Dennis couldn’t remember when he’d last seen her like this. “What’s the matter?” he asked, truly curious.
“Jamie,” she blurted out.
Well, it had taken close to two years, but… “He finally kick you to the curb?” Dennis couldn’t help feeling a tad smug. He’d warned Jamie…
“For a woman who can’t even remember who he is,” Olivia shot back.
“Oh. Well. Come on, you had to be expecting that. She’s his wife.”
“She doesn’t want him. She doesn’t love him. Not the way I do.”
“You love Jamie?” Dennis shook his head, as if clearing water out of his ears.
Olivia glared at him. “Why did you think I was hanging around?”
Dennis shrugged. “Money, status, rubbing my nose in it…”
“Get over yourself. I don’t give a damn about what you think. Or about Jamie’s money. I love him.”
That certainly put Dennis at a loss for words.
“What is wrong with me?” she repeated, more desperate this time. “Why do I repel men that I actually like? Sam, Jamie… you?”
“Me?” Dennis yelped, unbidden. “You liked… me?”
“Well, sure. In the beginning. Before I really knew you.”
“I liked you, too,” he admitted. “In the beginning.”
“Then why couldn’t we make it work?”
“Lots of people can’t make it work. We’re hardly unusual in that regard.”
“But they manage to do it without turning vicious; without hating each other and using their kid as a referee.”
“I don’t hate you,” Dennis said the words, not sure if he meant them or not, but feeling obliged. And a little bit moved by her obvious pain.
“You’re a rotten liar.”
“I don’t,” he insisted, reaching out for Olivia, meaning only to pat her on the shoulder or maybe offer a brotherly hug. He certainly didn’t mean to pull her into his arms the way that he did, or to kiss her the way that he did, or to end up in bed only a few moments later, remembering all the things that Dennis most certainly didn’t hate about Olivia. Not in the beginning, and not now….
With Jamie half sitting up, his back propped against the headboard, Lorna rested her cheek on his chest, both of them still gasping for breath, attempting to compose themselves, neither sure exactly what had just happened, only knowing that they were very, very satisfied with the results.
She felt him shift his weight slightly, inhaling as he did so.
“Don’t,” Lorna warned. “Do not open your mouth and ruin the moment, Frame.”
He obeyed and laughed instead, offering a cheerful, “Whatever you say,” in return.
“And stop being so obliging,” she ordered.
He hesitated. “Then how can I….”
“You can tone down the happiness a notch, too.”
“That,” he was forced to admit. “I’m afraid I can’t do.”
“Well, okay. But, at least promise me that the next time we do this – “
“There’s going to be a next time?” The sincere amazement in Jamie’s voice was so damn sweet it almost threw Lorna off track.
Almost, but not quite. “Promise me that the next time we do this, you’ll be a little less…”
“Worshipful,” Lorna finally selected the word she decided fit the occasion best.
“Sorry,” Jamie said. “I’m afraid that’s the only way I know how to make love.”
“And that’s another thing,” Lorna turned around, digging her elbow into Jamie’s chest so that she could look him in the eye. “This… what we did…”
“We made love,” he promoted.
“No. We fucked, Jamie. That’s it. It had been a while for me, I assume it’s been a while for you, too. We both needed it, and it was great. But, that’s it.”
“Okay,” Jamie playfully kissed the top of her head.
It took most of Lorna’s self-control to keep from rubbing the spot like a child, as if she could erase his touch. “Don’t go making a big deal out of this. Nothing has changed.”
“Nothing?” Jamie looked Lorna in the eye, an act that somehow, strangely managed to be more intimate than everything that had gone before it. Lorna thought he’d seen her at her most raw and exposed already. But that had been nothing compared to this.
She wanted to echo his sentiment. But all Lorna could do was shake her head mutely. And get the hell out of bed. Away from him.
“Rachel!” Eduardo’s perfectly put together façade didn’t shift an iota, despite what had to be his surprise and confusion at her turning up, unannounced, in his home. He beckoned her in, kissed her on the cheek and unleashed all the appropriate social pleasantries about how there was no better surprise than an unexpected visit from a beautiful woman. “And how may I be of assistance, today?” he asked, as if her wish truly were his command.
“I need your help,” Rachel confessed.
“For you? Anything!”
“I expect you’re aware of the… difficulties my husband has found himself in recently.”
Eduardo demurred. “Only that which is public knowledge.”
“You and Carl travel in similar circles. The other night, he was certain he recognized you. You must know some of the same people. Friends, business acquaintances, that sort of thing.”
Eduardo considered her words. “It is certainly possible, yes, I suppose.”
“I thought perhaps you might have heard something.”
“About Carl Hutchins? I am afraid not. I, like everyone else, presumed him to be dead these past three years.”
“But you must agree that there are very few people in this world capable of successfully framing my husband like this.”
“He was framed?” Eduardo raised an eyebrow. “I did not know that.”
“There’s no question about it,” Rachel said firmly. “Carl was forced to go into hiding by the threat to our children’s lives, and to that of my son’s wife. Carl had no choice but to withdraw underground until he’d identified who was after him… and why.”
“I am sorry. I am not very familiar with the details of his situation.”
“Felicia must have told you something.”
“Her concern is her daughter, not Carl.”
“Chase then. I can’t believe Chase hasn’t filled you in.”
“You’ve had multiple dealings, I believe, with my son’s partner. I’m sure you realize by now that Chase is strictly, as they say, by the book. He would never reveal confidential or classified information to inappropriate parties.”
“He used my former daughter-in-law to spy on her own family.”
“Unethical, perhaps,” Eduardo conceded. “But never illegal. I am sorry, Rachel, if you are here to ask what I know about the status of your husband’s indictment from Chase, I am afraid I cannot be of any assistance.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Rachel said.
“I’m afraid it’s the truth.”
“Especially since you’re the Federal agent in charge of it.”
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