“What’s wrong? What happened?” Kirkland asked as soon as he walked through Sarah’s door and realized she’d been crying.
“Grant,” she said simply. As if that explained everything.
He groaned, “Oh, great, what did he do now? Is it about Daisy?”
“Is it about… us?”
She shook her head, then, as if she couldn’t quite believe it herself, murmured, “He said he loved me.”
“He said he’s always loved me. That the only reason he claimed he didn’t was to protect me.”
“From what?” Kirkland exploded.
“Great job, Dad.”
“He said that Lorna – before she disappeared – Lorna convinced him that he’d be ruining my life by being with me. That I was too young and he was too old… she compared him and me to her and Carl. You can imagine how Grant felt about that.”
“Got to hand it to Lorna,” Kirkland said. “She really knows how to hit a guy where it hurts.”
“So do you,” Sarah said.
“It wasn’t just Lorna. You told your dad that the best thing he ever did for you was walk away and let Jamie raise you. You told him you were grateful to him for it.”
“Yeah. I am. So?”
“So… Grant put those two things together and decided the best thing he could do was to walk away from me. And Daisy. For our own good.”
“Bullshit. He’s been threatening to take Daisy away from you since she was born.”
“No. He hasn’t. It’s what I’ve been afraid of, but he hasn’t really done anything. He said that when he saw her at the hospital, he realized he couldn’t turn his back on her. But, he could still stay away from me. That’s why he married Marley, he said. To send me the message that he wasn’t available and I should move on with my life. Not hold on to false hope. He said he did it all for me.”
“And he once said that he tried to blow my mom up for my sake. We’re talking Grant Harrison 101, here.”
“He told me he couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t keep pretending. He loves me and Daisy. He wants to be with us. He said he’d leave Marley. He asked me to marry him, Kirkland.”
“Oh,” Kirk said, desperately searching for a sarcastic rejoinder, but coming up empty.
“He said he loves me,” she repeated, still somewhat in awe.
“Do you love him?” Kirkland blurted out, unaware he’d been planning to ask until the words were out of his mouth and he was hearing them for the first time.
“I… did. Once.”
“I thought you hated him for the way he treated you.”
“I – I didn’t understand why. Before.”
“And you believe him? You really believe he did it all for you?”
“You didn’t see him, Kirkland. He was… he was the Grant I first fell in love with.”
“So you do still love him?”
“I don’t know,” she threw her hands up in the air. “I’m confused.”
“What did you say when he asked you to marry him?”
“I didn’t say anything. I was too shocked.”
“Grant must’ve hated that. I bet he was expecting you to fall into his arms. Whenever he makes one of his big, dramatic, sincere gestures, he always expects us to fall for it.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“You’re asking me?”
“You’re my friend, aren’t you?”
“And you know Grant.”
“What do you think I should do?” Sarah repeated.
“I know what you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t do a damn thing until you find out if Grant really meant it about leaving Marley.”
Despite assuring Jamie that she was perfectly fine living under Carl and Rachel’s roof, Lorna had to admit he’d been right about her feeling smothered and monitored.
That was why, as often as she could, Lorna left the house and proceeded to walk the grounds, sometimes for hours at a time. It got her away from the Hutchins’ prying eyes. And it gave her time to think.
For weeks now, Lorna had been exploring every inch of the Cory property. But, she’d deliberately avoided the Eastern Rose Garden. The one where, according to what she’d read on-line, Lorna and Jamie had been married.
She’d studied the photos that accompanied the society items with the kind of care that Sovietologists had once used for shots of Communist party members outside the Kremlin. She recognized the groom as Jamie, Felicia as mother of the bride, Rachel, Lucas, Jamie’s kids in attendance, even Carl keeping a respectful distance. The only person she didn’t recognize was herself.
And not just because Lorna happened to be hugely pregnant in all the pictures.
It was the look on that woman’s face that she didn’t recognize. There were her eyes, her nose, her mouth, even the wedding gown was to her taste. But, she looked different, all the same.
“We were happy,” Jamie had told her. “We were in love.”
Was that it? Was that what she was seeing?
Lorna walked through the garden, knowing it was silly, not believing it for an instant, but, still, a tiny part of her hoping to maybe recapture some sense of what that day had been like. How she’s felt.
She stepped up to the platform where the wedding ceremony had taken place. She looked down at where the audience would have sat. She tried to imagine herself wearing that dress, standing across from Jamie, saying her vows, promising to love, honor and cherish that exasperating man who claimed to know Lorna better than she did herself.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to remember something, to feel… something. She tried to hear the minister’s voice, to recall the way her gown must have billowed in the wind, the sensation of Jamie holding her hands, his breath in her face, his lips on hers…
If she strained… if she really, really reached for it… Lorna swore she could almost feel it.
She opened her eyes with a start.
And found herself kissing Jamie.
For a moment, Lorna wasn’t certain if she was still imagining things. But her uncertainty didn’t last very long.
She yanked away, instinctively wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, although, in practice, it was the last thing she wanted to do.
“What the hell, Frame?”
“I’m sorry,” he told her sincerely, seemingly as stunned to find himself there as she was. “I had no right… I’m sorry. It’s just, I saw you standing there and… I’m so sorry.”
He’d grown frighteningly pale, to the point where Lorna felt she had to tell him, “It’s… okay. I mean, no harm done.” She reminded, “It’s not like we haven’t already taken it a step further, you know?”
“That still didn’t give me any right to…”
“I was trying to remember,” she admitted. Mostly to distract him from the guilt trip he seemed intent on taking. “I was trying to remember our wedding. I thought, maybe if I stood on the exact same spot and tried my best…”
“You mean,” Jamie needed to make sure. “You finally believe me? About us?”
“Let’s put it this way: You hit way too many high points with me the other day for it to have been just one hell of a lucky guess.”
“Thank you.” Some of the life returned to Jamie’s eyes. Lorna hadn’t realized how much she’d missed it.
“So, yeah, to answer your question, I believe we were married, and I believe we were… good together.”
“Don’t get cocky.”
“But, that’s it?” Despite what she considered a compliment, Jamie still seemed disappointed.
“Oh, okay, fine. Very, very good.”
“You haven’t remember anything else?” He couldn’t seem to let it go.
“No,” she insisted firmly. “Nothing else at all.”
“Ah, Mrs. Hutchins, right on schedule,” Chase smiled broadly as he set down the receiver of his office phone. “I’ve just finished speaking to Eduardo.”
“At least you have the decency to finally confess the association between you.”
“When did I ever hide the association between us? He’s Doug’s father.”
“Cut the crap,” Rachel snapped. “You’ve been taking orders from him for years,”
“He’s the one who put you on Carl’s tail.”
“I hardly needed the prompt. Your husband has been cutting a criminal swath through Bay City since the early 1980s. I’d have been a pretty lousy DA to miss it.”
“Then you admit this has been a personal vendetta all along?”
“The Justice Department does tend to take people breaking their laws very personally.”
“I have an offer for you, Mr. Hamilton.”
“Oh, yay, another one.” Nevertheless, he leaned back in his chair. “I’m listening.”
“If Carl pleads guilty to your precious Justice Department’s charges against him – “
“Then you finally admit he did do absolutely everything we’ve accused him of?” Chase echoed Rachel’s tone from a moment earlier.
“That’s irrelevant,” Rachel snapped, eager to get to her next point.
“Not to me,” Chase corrected. “Is Carl Hutchins, or is he not, guilty of violating the terms of his pardon and continuing to illegally do business with his prior associates?”
“Yes,” Rachel seethed. “There. Are you happy?”
“That Carl managed to evade justice and continue walking free for the past fifteen years or so? Not particularly, no.”
“If Carl pleads guilty to your charges, will you, in turn, arrest Iris Wheeler for her attempt to have him and my children killed?”
“On the basis of what?” Chase asked, dumbstruck, wanting to laugh, but too shocked to actually go through with it..
“The evidence my husband has given you!”
“Mrs. Hutchins,” Chase spoke as if to one of his preschool aged children. “If you were on a jury, would you put much stock in evidence collected exclusively by the victim?”
“Why not? The victim is the one most motivated to see that justice is served, isn’t he?”
“He is also the one most motivated to fake it, in order to get his way. Right now, the only proof against Iris is a glorified case of your husband pointing the finger.”
“That’s a lie. Carl has documents, tapes, photographs… I’ve seen them. He’s turned them all over to you.”
“And not a single witness to corroborate their veracity. Your husband fabricated evidence that brought down the bulk of the compound and got Spencer Harrison killed. You think he can’t doctor a few scraps of paper against Iris?”
“You’re contradicting yourself, Mr. Hamilton,” Rachel taunted. “If Carl’s say so isn’t enough to convict Iris – because he’s the victim; then how is Eduardo’s word any more valid when it comes to Carl?”
“Are you seriously asking me that question?”
“Do you have an answer?”
“Yes. Several, actually. One) Eduardo Rivera is a federal agent. He’s one of the good guys. Remember those? Once upon a time, you used to be able to tell the difference.”
Rachel snorted. “And never, ever in the history of law enforcement, has one of the so-called good guys ever bent the law for their own purposes.”
“And Two) There are stacks and filing cabinets and rooms full of documents testifying to Carl’s guilt. We’d have him dead to rights even if you hadn’t already confessed earlier.”
“Most of those documents come from Iris, no doubt. You forget, Mr. Hamilton, I know the two of you were in this together. You helped her try to take over my company.”
“You also know, Mrs. Hutchins, because I’ve told you repeatedly, that I did no such thing. Yes, Mrs. Wheeler took advantage of your situation to buy up Cory stock. But she got no inside information or help from me.” Chase added, “And if you think Iris is the lone witness against your husband, I assure you, there was no shortage of eager volunteers for that position. Unlike Carl’s case against Iris, every single scrap of proof we have has been independently verified a dozen times over.”
“She tried to kill him,” Rachel hated to sound as if she were pleading, but Chase seemed incapable of understanding. “She wanted to kill my children, my daughter-in-law. Carl did what he had to in order to shield them all. You once swore to protect the citizens of Bay City. Iris is a threat. She needs to be stopped before she strikes again – and she will, you know how relentless she can be. Damn it, Hamilton, I offered to give you what you and that obsessive father-in-law of yours want most. Carl will publicly confess. You can punish him whichever way you see fit. But, in exchange, you must take down Iris using the proof Carl provided. You must see to it that she is never, ever able to hurt my family again. You’ve been working towards this for twenty years. It’s the deal of a lifetime and you know it won’t come around again.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Hutchins, are you honestly offering me a deal I can’t refuse?”
“Yes,” Rachel said.
“Marley,” Grant began, hoping the inspiration for what to say next might come in the meantime. It didn’t.
“What?” She looked up from her desk at the gallery, wondering why Grant had chosen to interrupt her out of the blue. Then, when she saw the look on his face, she pressed more urgently, “What?”
He said, “I made mistake. Marrying you was a mistake, Marley.”
“You deserve so much better than me,” he insisted.
She shrugged to indicate that was true, but what could one do about it now?
He said, “You deserve someone who loves you more than anything.”
“I know you don’t love me, Grant,” she replied evenly. “Not the way you loved Vicky. Or Paulina. Or Sharlene. Hell, maybe not even the way you loved Amanda and Lorna – and God knows what the deal was between you and Cindy. I know all that. I’ve known it all along. I’ve made my peace with it.”
“Sarah,” Grant said. “I love Sarah. More than I’ve ever loved anyone.”
“Love,” Marley repeated slowly. “As in: present tense?”
And Marley burst out laughing. “Well, that’s inconvenient, isn’t it? Because, as far as I can tell, the girl can barely stand the sight of you.”
“That’s my fault,” Grant agreed. “I did it on purpose. I pushed Sarah away because I didn’t want her wasting her life on me. I told her I didn’t love her and I didn’t want her so she would move on. And I used marrying you to prove just how over her I was.”
“Well, that explains a lot,” Marley conceded, then wondered, “And why are you telling me all this now?”
“Because while I was fooling her and you, I was fooling myself, as well.”
“Happens to the best of us.”
“I can’t get her out of my mind. I need to be with her. I belong with her.”
“Even if it screws up her life, just like you feared all along?”
“Yes,” he admitted guiltily. “I tried to be a better man. And I failed.”
“Nothing new there.”
“No,” he agreed.
“Have you told Sarah yet, or am I your first stop?”
“I’ve told her.”
“And what did she say?”
Grant tried to think of the best way to answer.
But Marley beat him to the punch. “She doesn’t want you back, does she?”
“She didn’t say…”
“This might all turn out to be for nothing!” Marley crowed. “Oh, Grant, you weren’t kidding. You’ve made one hell of a mistake. Because, believe me, no matter what happens, neither one of us is going to make this easy for you!”
“This is so exciting, Matthew,” Donna trilled as she and her husband – still wearing his hospital gown – snuck around the corridors of the Swiss clinic where Carl had once been spotted.
They’d waited until nighttime, when most of the guests had gone, the patients were sleeping, and the staff down to a minimum.
It hadn’t been so hard to sneak out of Matt’s room. He’d charmed one of the nurses into removing his monitoring devices. And the Corys still remembered where the doctor’s office was from their earlier, rather futile visit. The one that ended with his death, following a phone call from a Mrs. Wheeler.
What did prove somewhat challenging was gaining access to the filing cabinet where they presumed his records to be stored. Fortunately, Donna came prepared for the occasion with a nail file, and some very nimble fingers.
“You are a woman of many talents,” Matt admired.
“And don’t you ever, ever forget it,” she whispered, lest someone passing by outside overheard.
It took them hours to go through each single file. Especially when Donna had to stop every few moments upon spying a familiar name, and unable to resist taking a peek, read through the entire thing.
“And she claimed she had no work done!” Donna exclaimed more than once, tsk-tsking and shaking her head. And storing information for the future.
Matt was starting to feel frustrated – and not nearly as clever as he had when he first hatched this plan. As far as he could see, every patient at the clinic had come from some discrete nipping and tucking. But, nothing more than that.
That is, until Donna gasped as she caught sight of a file labeled “Mrs. Carl Hutchins.”
“Why, Rachel, you sly boots…” she murmured, grabbing for the folder.
Only to open it and realize that the woman described inside wasn’t Rachel at all.
It was Lorna.
“Well?” Iris refused to let something silly like a lack of invitation – or not being wanted – keep her from her objective. She barged into Amanda’s office to ask, “Did you speak to Lila?”
“None of your business.”
“And what did she say?” Iris read between the lines. What else could one do with the sullen?
“She basically called me an idiot.”
“Well, she’s right.”
Amanda swiveled around in her chair. “Seriously, Iris? That’s what you came in here to do? Trade insults?”
“You are indeed acting idiotically, Amanda, if you continue to bury your head in the sand and pretend you don’t see what is brewing between your husband and that cheap tart.”
“When did you become my biggest supporter?”
“You’re a Cory. And no Cory deserves to have her man pilfered by a piece of white trash. If you wish to kick Kevin to the curb on your own, feel free to do so. But, to lose him to a woman so far below your own social class you might as well be different species – I simply won’t stand for it.”
“So this is all about you?” Amanda double-checked.
“It’s about the family honor. Just because your mother seems to have fallen for Lila’s act, that’s no reason for you to do the same.”
Amanda snorted, “Lila can do no wrong in Mom’s eyes. You remember what she pulled with Chase? It’s Lila’s fault Carl was going to be arrested – and still Mom forgave her! If it was me, I’d never hear the end of it. Hell, Mom chose Carl over all her kids. And Lila was right there with her, the good surrogate daughter.”
“Lila… Carl… It’s as I said, your mother has lost all perspective. You, on the other hand, have not. So, Amanda, what do you say? Are you ready to listen to your big sister?”
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