Rachel didn’t hear the shot. At least, she didn’t think she did. All Rachel knew was that she’d woken up with a start. And that she knew something was wrong.
She flew out of bed, pulling on a robe and heading in the direction of the library without a clear understanding of why, driven by nothing but instinct.
The lights were off. She flicked them on.
And found Carl sprawled on the floor, covered in a surge of blood, scratching impotently at the carpeting, attempting to… get to her.
At the same instant as Rachel had been running to him, Carl had desperately, possibly with his last breath, been trying to get to her.
The blood pooled beneath him. It matted in his hair and smeared along his face. He attempted to raise his head and look entreatingly at Rachel, but he lacked the strength.
She wanted to run to him, to do… something, anything. But, at the same time, Rachel realized the best thing she could do was to stumble towards the phone, dial 9-1-1 with shaking fingers and in a voice part scream, part whisper, choke out their address and the details of her husbands injury. Hurry. Please. Please, hurry.
That done, she dropped the receiver and finally allowed herself to kneel at Carl’s side. She peeled off her robe, crumpled it up and attempted to press it against the wound in his back, hoping to quench the bleeding.
It was soaked through in almost no time.
“The ambulance is on its way,” she reassured him, stroking Carl’s free hand, horrified by how cold it had gotten in just the few minutes since she first took it.
He didn’t say anything. He lay, cheek on the floor, eyes closed, breathing raspily. But, when Rachel briefly removed her palm from the back of his, he jerked in surprise. He may not have been fully conscious, but he was still somewhat aware of his surroundings.
Which was what prompted Rachel to take the risk.
She lowered her face until it was parallel with his, her lips to his ear and softly, so as not aggravate him anymore than she absolutely had to, asked, “Who did this to you, Carl? Do you know who did this?”
“Olivia was right,” Grant informed Sarah as they sat in the kitchen, lingering over their breakfast on a holiday morning when Daisy didn’t need to be rushed to school. With their daughter upstairs and out of hearing range, Grant finally worked up the courage to say as much to Sarah.
She shook her head, somewhere between amused and confused. “My mother has never been right in her life. Especially where it concerns me. Why would she start now?”
“She was right when she said that you were too young to be throwing your life away.”
“Oh, that again.” Sarah rolled her eyes. “Didn’t we already have this conversation?”
“I don’t mean throwing your life away on me,” Grant reassured. “Or on Daisy. But, Olivia was right when she said there needs to be more to your life than just us. You deserve to be one of those women who have it all: A family and a career.”
“If you tell me that I should let Marley take care of Daisy while I – “
“No.” Grant held up a hand to stop her right there. “Not Marley. Definitely not Marley.”
“But, how about… me?”
“You?” Sarah blinked.
“Yes. Me. How about you let me be Daisy’s primary caretaker, and you go out into the world and find something that you’re absolutely fabulous at and that you love to do.”
Sarah tried to be diplomatic when she offered, “I, uhm, I never pictured you as the Mr. Mom type.”
“Neither did I,” he agreed.
“What about your work?”
“My work?” Grant sighed. “I manage my investments. I move money from one spot to another in the hope of eking out a smidge more profit. Not only is it a rather pointless activity, but I’m also not particularly adept at it. My father, he could buy a company, re-jigger a few numbers on the balance sheet, and suddenly the profits are flooding in. I’m lucky if I break even at the end of the year. Honestly, a monkey – notice I didn’t say a trained monkey – could probably get the same results.”
“But, do you like doing it?”
“Not at all.”
She laughed. “So you think you’re ready to give that all up for carpools and play-dates and tea parties?”
“Frankly,” Grant told her sincerely. “It sounds wonderful. Let’s be honest, here, Sarah – how many years can I really expect to have with Daisy?”
“You – “
“Are old enough to be her grandfather.” Grant didn’t add Lila’s assertion that he was old enough to be Sarah’s grandfather, too. “We’re talking another decade, maybe two – if I’m lucky. Why shouldn’t I want to cherish every moment?”
“What about me?” Sarah challenged. “If you’re only planning on sticking around for another decade – “
“I didn’t say I was planning it. I just said that it’s possible – “
“What about me? Don’t you want to cherish every moment with me, also?”
Grant leaned back in his chair, smiling. “I always said you were smart. Too damn smart for me, that’s for sure.” He sighed. “I am doing my very, very best not to make you my whole world. The last time I did that with a woman, it… didn’t end well. I’m trying to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. And to make it so that, when I am gone, you have a whole life outside of me, too. It’s best for both of us this way. I want you to have a passion, a career. I want to make sure you are taken care of. I want – “
The doorbell rang.
Grant smiled. “Ah, perfect timing.”
“Who is it?” Sarah asked.
“A surprise.” Grant stood up from the kitchen table and gestured for Sarah to follow him into the living room, and then to the front door. “Something for your future.”
He smiled again and opened the door.
To reveal… Kirkland.
“Sorry, Jamie, did I wake you up?” Matt’s voice crackled over the cell-phone as Jamie rubbed his face with one hand, using his knuckle to swipe the sleep from his eyes. Lorna sat up in bed next to him, suspecting that a call from Matt this early on a holiday couldn’t possibly be good news.
“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked.
“It’s Carl,” Matt said. “He’s been shot.”
“Carl has been shot,” Jamie repeated dully, both to fill in Lorna and to allow himself to absorb the news. “Is he… is he – “
“He’s alive,” Matt said. “At least he was when the ambulance came to get him. Mom found him in the study. Jesus, Jamie, there was blood everywhere.”
“Where was the entry wound?” Jamie couldn’t help it, he slipped into doctor mode. It was his path of least resistance, and it didn’t trigger an avalanche of disturbing thoughts.
“Not sure. Looked like he was shot in the back. After he and Mom took off, I went in to look around. The gun was lying right there, under the chair he’d been sitting in. There wasn’t even any attempt to get rid of it.”
“She wasn’t exactly chatty. She went to the hospital with him. I was going to head over myself in a few minutes, bring Elizabeth and Cory, too. I – I thought maybe you’d want to come. Emotional support, you know?”
“Yeah…” Jamie said slowly. “I – I’ll see you there.”
“Thanks,” Matt exhaled, clearly relieved not to have to play Number One Son for long. That had always been Jamie’s job. Matt wouldn’t know where to start.
Jamie hung up the phone and turned around to face Lorna the rest of the way. Her expression was as ambiguous as he imagined his own to be.
“He’s alive?” Lorna double-checked.
“As far as Matt knows.”
Jamie stood up slowly, reaching for his clothes. “I’m going to head down to the hospital. Mom rode in the ambulance with Carl. Matt’s going to bring Elizabeth and Cory. I don’t know if he’s planning on calling Amanda….”
Lorna nodded. “Rachel must be going out of her mind.”
“How many times is she supposed to go through this? How many times is that son-of-a-bitch going to put my mother through this?”
“Call me when you know anything.” Lorna stood up on her knees on the bed, facing Jamie, who’d pulled on his shirt and pants. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” He kissed her quickly, then reconsidering, more deeply, before heading for the door. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
“I’ll be waiting,” she promised.
News of Carl Hutchins’ shooting made the local news within the hour of Rachel calling an ambulance. Cass and Frankie found out as soon as they booted up their laptops and saw the headlines. Charlie knew it then, too.
“Does it say who did it?” was her first question.
Judging by the looks on her parents’ faces, it was the wrong one.
“What? Guy was shot in the back in his own house. Doesn’t sound like an accident to me.”
“It says the assailant is unknown at this time,” Cass read off his screen.
“Bet it’s a hell of a suspect list, though.”
“Have you given any thought to how Elizabeth feels right now?” Frankie cut off this topic of discussion to focus on the one she found more important.
“Oh, come on,” Charlie pouted. “Not this again. This is just like with Kirkland – “
“I’m glad you remember.”
“Why are you guys always on me about this?”
“Because, Charlotte, one of the parts to being in a relationship is supporting the other person when times get rough.”
“One of the rotten parts, you mean.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Frankie told her.
“Your mother is right,” Cass interjected. “I used to think exactly like you do. Give me the fun parts of a relationship, and you can keep the rest. It took me a very long time before I realized how important and meaningful being there for the other person is. For both parties. Knowing that you are the only thing that can alleviate or, at least, make life even a little bit easier for someone in pain… it’s a pretty heady feeling.”
“For you, maybe. You’re Cass Winthrop. You’re charming and debonair and the life of the party.”
“Maybe you’re good at the cheering up thing. I’m not. I never know what to say or how I’m supposed to act. All I do is make things worse.”
“You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to act in a certain way. You just need to be there for the other person.”
Charlie crossed her arms. “I don’t believe you.”
“Try it,” her father urged. “I promise you, you won’t be sorry.”
She snorted. “What about the other person?”
“Just try it,” he urged. “You might even surprise yourself.”
“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” Iris announced triumphantly, eagerly turning up the television’s volume upon hearing about Carl’s shooting.
Russ watched her quietly over his cup of coffee, not exactly disagreeing, but not precisely cheering her on, either.
“Perhaps you should head on over to the hospital,” Iris suggested. “Make sure Carl gets exactly the level of care he deserves.”
“I’m sure he’s in good hands,” Russ said evenly.
“I can’t imagine whose. Is there a single doctor on staff at Bay City University Hospital whose life hasn’t been damaged by the swath Carl cut through this town?”
“He and Rachel have given a great deal of money to the hospital over the years.”
“Blood money. Reparations for harm done. I wonder if Alice is on duty this morning. Or Jamie. How about John Hudson? Or, goodness, even Morgan Winthrop has an axe to grind, hasn’t he?”
“I feel certain all of my doctors are adequately professional to deal with any issues that might arise.”
“Even doctors are only human,” Iris reminded.
“Stop it,” he snapped, slamming down his cup. “Stop… gloating.”
“Why should I?” she challenged, refusing to back down. “That man drove my father to an early grave. He sent me to prison for years despite knowing I was innocent. And, just this past year, he accused me of not only putting a contract out on his life, but that of his children. He claimed I was the cause behind Lorna’s kidnapping, and now he’s made it so that my family company might well be out of my reach for good. Carl Hutchins is in pain? Carl Hutchins is suffering? I say… good!”
“What about Rachel? Do you give a damn about her suffering? Does it matter to you that she stands in danger of losing another husband? One that she loves as much as she loved your precious father?”
“And why does that matter to you? Rachel played you for a fool. She threw you over the moment Carl blew back into town. You should be cheering her comeuppance!”
“I’m sorry. I guess I misplaced my copy of the Iris Cory Proper Etiquette Book.”
“In fact, the only reason for you not to be cheering this development, is if you’re still in love with Rachel!”
Her husband held Iris’ look for a long, fraught beat. And then, with no guilt whatsoever, he reminded, “You know I am.”
“Yes,” Iris exhaled, more resigned than sad. Lying would only have insulted her intelligence. Though, she did wish Russ had at least considered it. “I did know that.”
Russ tipped his head to indicate his sincere respect for her graciousness about the matter.
“But, in that case, ought not you be even more eager to see Carl shuffle off his mortal coil?”
“I saw what Rachel went through the last time she thought she’d lost him. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
“Of course, there is another possibility for why you so fear Carl’s demise?”
“And what might that be?”
“You suspect I might be the one behind it….”
By the time Jamie arrived at the hospital’s emergency room, Matt, Elizabeth, Cory and even Amanda were already there. And yet, from the moment he walked in, Rachel only had eyes for Jamie. She flew into his arms, burying her tear-stained face into his chest, whispering, “Thank you for coming, darling,” for the second time in less than twenty-four hours. Only this time, with a much different meaning.
“I guess the rest of us can go now?” Amanda whispered into Matt’s ear, not minding that both Cory and Elizabeth overheard. And seemed to agree with her sentiment.
“Behave, would you, please,” Matt hissed back. Though Elizabeth did offer her sister a smirk of understanding.
“Where’s Carl?” Jamie asked his mother.
“Morgan operating?” Jamie ran through the duty roster in his mind.
Rachel nodded hesitantly, fearfully.
“It’s fine. He’s in good hands,” Jamie reassured. “Morgan is the best surgeon on staff. He operated on Kirkland, remember? After his car accident? He saved his life.”
“Morgan says they need to get the bullet out. Also, Carl’s lost so much blood… Oh, God, Jamie, there was so much blood. It was everywhere. I couldn’t believe…”
“A transfusion will take care of it. You did the right thing, calling the ambulance, not trying to move him. I looked at the report the paramedics filed. You did everything right.”
“I wasn’t with Mac when he died. I should have been with him, but I wasn’t. I want to be with Carl. I can’t stand the thought of not being there if…”
“They’ll let you know as soon as you can see him,” Jamie reassured, gently easing Rachel from a standing position into a sitting one, taking the chair next to her, gesturing for the others to do the same and gather around. “We’re here, Mom. We’re all here for you. And,” he swallowed hard, nearly choking on the words. “For Carl.”
At that, Rachel couldn’t help smiling weakly. “You were never the liar I was, Jamie.”
“I’ll work on it,” he promised. “After Carl recovers.”
Rachel looked to Matt. “Thank you for calling everyone. Thank you for getting them here. I really appreciate it, Matthew. It was so thoughtful of you.”
“Sure,” he shifted awkwardly, unused to the attention. “Yeah, sure, Mom, of course.”
Not wanting to be left out, Amanda said, “I don’t know how you want to handle this, news-wise, but I can put my PR – “
“Oh, what does it matter?” Rachel snapped. “Who cares what people say or what they insinuate? The only thing that matters is that Carl pulls through. The gossip rags can go to hell, for all I care.”
“I was only trying to help,” her daughter pouted, withdrawing from the inner circle.
“It’s okay, Amanda,” Cory was the first to notice her distress. “Mom didn’t mean it. She’s just upset. You know the press is going to start calling any minute, and it would be really great to have someone who knows what they’re doing taking care of things.”
Amanda realized her little brother was trying to cheer her up. So far, he was the sole person who’d even acknowledged her feelings. She couldn’t help smiling at him, and wanting to ruffle Cory’s hair. Even if he now stood a good half a foot taller than her.
“Mrs. Hutchins?” The voice of authority coming from the door prompted Rachel’s entire brood to turn around.
They’d been expecting the doctor in charge. What they got was Toni Burrell.
Police Chief Toni Burrell, to be precise.
Her smile was one of awkwardness and exigency. The woman had come here to do a job, and she was determined to discharge her duties as efficiently as possible by keeping the small-talk down to a minimum.
“Wow,” Elizabeth blurted. “We get the chief of police herself.”
The rest of them had been pretty much thinking the same thing. Apparently, Carl was still important enough to warrant top of the line public service.
“How is he?” Toni asked Rachel solicitously.
“Fighting for his life,” Carl’s wife shot back, in no mood to be handled with kid gloves. In no mood to be handled, period.
Toni said, “I have a forensics teams back at the house. They tell me the murder weapon was left in plain sight. It has, however, been wiped clean of fingerprints.”
“Naturally,” Rachel shook her head in disgust, as though she faulted the police for this development.
“And our records show that your security system was never triggered last night, which suggests no forced entry.”
“No. It suggests to me forced entry by someone who knew how to work our security system.”
“We’re looking into that, Mrs. Hutchins.”
“You’re wasting your time. Someone smart enough to bypass our defenses and wipe their fingerprints from the gun is certainly smart enough to leave no other clues behind.”
“We can’t be certain of that. My team is conducting a thorough investigation.”
“Or you could just ask me.”
“I beg your pardon? You think you can identify your husband’s shooter?”
“I don’t think it. I know it.”
“Mom!” Matt gasped.
While Amanda demanded, “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?”
“Because, like I told you before, the most important thing is Carl’s recovery. Identifying his attempted murderer will hardly help that effort one way or the other.”
“It will, however,” Toni said. “Help us apprehend the culprit and see to it that justice is served. How can you be sure – “
“Because I saw them,” Rachel said. “I saw who pulled the trigger.” She looked at Jamie, who instinctively took a step back, already shaking his head as if begging his mother not to voice her accusation. But, it was too late.
“Lorna,” his mother spat bitterly. “The person who tried to kill my husband was Lorna Devon… Frame.”
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