- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
Part Three. FINISH TRIM Chapter Thirty
It gave her such pleasure to look through them. It occurred to Cilla that Ford might like to choose some of the photos they'd frame and display. The group shot, for instance. Her father, his mother, her uncle, Janet, and... that had to be a young and handsome Tom Morrow. Brian certainly took after him.
"I'd better not. I'm sorry, Cathy, but I feel a little off. I need to-"
"Finish your wine." Cathy opened her purse, drew out a small revolver. "I insist," she said as Spock began to grumble.
"JANET COMMITTED SUICIDE. I've regretted whatever part I might have played in that for more than thirty years."
"She was pregnant."
"She claimed..." Something in Ford's eyes had Tom pausing, nodding. "Yes. I didn't believe her, not until we spoke face-to-face. After, after she died, the day she died, in fact, I went to my father. Confessed everything. He was furious with me. He had no tolerance for mistakes, not when they affected the family name. He handled it. We never spoke of it again. I assume he paid off the medical examiner to omit the pregnancy."
And his political career, Ford thought, had gone down the toilet.
"It was the only thing to do, Ford. Imagine what the public would've done to her if it had come out? Imagine what might have become of my family if I was named the father?"
"You spoke, face-to-face."
"I went to the farm. I wanted her to leave it alone, to move on, but she persisted. So I went to see her, as she demanded. She'd been drinking. Not drunk, not yet, but she'd been drinking. She had the results of the pregnancy test."
"She had them with her?" Ford prompted. "The paperwork."
"Yes. She'd used her real name, went to a doctor who didn't know her. Personally, that is. She said she'd worn a wig and used makeup. She often did when we'd meet somewhere. She knew how to hide when she wanted to. I believed her then, and I believed her when she told me she intended to have the baby. But she was done with me. I didn't deserve her, or the child."
Ford's eyes narrowed. "She dumped you?"
"I'd already ended it. I suppose she wanted the last word on that. We argued; I won't deny it. But she was alive when I left."
"What happened to the doctor's report?"
"I have no idea. I'm telling you, she was alive when I went home, and looked in on my daughter. I thought of all I'd risked, all I might have destroyed. I thought of Cathy, and the child she carried. How I'd nearly asked her for a divorce only months before so I could be, openly, with a woman who didn't really exist. I might have done that. I nearly did that."
He leaned heavily on the deck rail, closed his eyes. "It was Cathy telling me she was pregnant that helped me begin to break the spell. I lay down on the cot in the nursery with my daughter, thought of the baby Cathy would have in the fall. Thought of Cathy and our life together. I never saw Janet again. I never risked my family again. Thirty-five years, Ford. What would it accomplish to bring it out now?"
"You terrorized Cilla. You nearly killed a man, and when that wasn't enough, you terrorized her. Breaking into her house, writing obscenities on her truck, her wall, threatening her."
"I broke in. I admit that, too. To look for the letters. And I lost control when I couldn't find them. It was the anger, the impulse that had me smashing the tiles. But the rest? I had nothing to do with it. It was Hennessy. I realized the letters didn't matter. They didn't matter. No one would connect me."
"Hennessy couldn't have done all the rest. He was locked up."
"I'm telling you, it wasn't me. Why would I lie about a stone wall, the dolls?" Tom demanded. "You know the worst of it."
"Your wife knew. Janet called her. You said so in the letter, the last letter."
"Janet was drunk, and raving. I convinced Cathy that it wasn't true. That it was alcohol, pills and grief. She was upset, of course, but she believed me. She..."
"If you could live a lie this long, why couldn't she? You claim you slept in the nursery the night Janet died."
"Yes, I... I fell asleep. I woke when Cathy came in to get the baby. She looked so tired. I asked if she was all right. She said she was fine. We were all fine now." In the moonlight, the flush of shame died to shock white. "My God."
Ford didn't wait for more reasons, more excuses. He ran. Cilla was alone. And Cathy Morrow knew it.
"YOU PUT SOMETHING IN THE WINE."
"Seconal. Just like your whore of a grandmother. But it was vodka for her."
Queasiness rose up to her throat. Fear, knowledge, the mix of drugs and wine. "The couch wasn't pink; the dress wasn't blue."
"Drink some more wine, Cilla. You're babbling now."
"You saw the couch, the dress the night... the night you killed her. That's what you remember-that night, not the Christmas party. Tom wrote the letters, is that it? Tom was her lover, the father of the child she carried."
"He was my husband, and the father of my child, and the child I carried. Did she care about that?" Fury blasted across her face. Not madness, Cilla thought, not like Hennessy. Sheer burning fury.
"Did she give one thought to what marriage and family meant before she tried to take what was mine? She had everything. Everything. But it wasn't enough. It never is for women like her. She was nearly ten years older than he was. She made a fool of me, and even that wasn't enough. He went to her, left me to go to her that night while I rocked our daughter to sleep, while our baby kicked in my womb. He went to her, and to the bastard she made with him. Drink the wine, Cilla."
"Did you hold a gun on her, too?"
"I didn't have to. She'd been drinking already. I slipped the pills into her glass. My pills," she added. "Ones I thought I needed when I first learned she had her hooks in him."
"How long? How long did you know?"
"Months. He came home and I smelled her perfume. Soir de Paris. Her scent. I saw her in his eyes. I knew he went to her, again and again. And only touched me when I begged. But it changed, it started to change when I got pregnant. When I made sure I did. He was coming back to me. She wouldn't allow it. Kept luring him back. I would not be pitied. I would not see myself compared to her and laughed at.
"I'll shoot you if you don't drink. They'll call it another break-in. A tragic one this time." She reached back into her purse, pulled out the large plastic bag, and the doll trapped inside it. "In case you'd rather go with the bullet, I'll leave this behind. I bought several of them years ago. I couldn't resist. I never knew why until you came here."
Struggling against the dizziness, Cilla lifted the glass, wet her lips. "You staged her suicide."
"She made it easy. She invited me in, like an old friend. Apologized for what she'd done. She was sorry she'd hurt me, or caused me any pain. She couldn't undo it, wouldn't if she could. Because that would undo the baby. All she wanted now was the baby and a chance to make up for past mistakes. Of course, she'd never reveal the name of the father. Lying bitch."
"You drugged her."
"When she started to slide, I helped her upstairs. I felt so strong then. I nearly had to carry her, but I was strong. I undressed her. I wanted her naked, exposed. And I gave her more pills, gave her more vodka. And I sat and I watched her die. I sat and I watched until she stopped breathing. Then I left.
"I'd drive by here. After they'd taken her away to where she never belonged, I'd drive by. I liked watching it decay while I... emerged. I starved myself. I exercised until every muscle trembled. Beauty salons, spas, liposuction, face-lifts. He would never look at me and want her. No one would ever look at me with pity."
An image, Cilla thought. An illusion. "I've done nothing to you."
"You came here." With her free hand, Cathy added more pills to Cilla's glass, topped it off with wine. "Cheers!"
"I was wrong," Cilla mumbled. "You're as crazy as Hennessy after all."
"No, just a lot more focused. This house deserved to die its slow, miserable death. She only went to sleep. That was my mistake. You brought her back by coming here, shoved it all in my face again. You had my own son plant roses for her. You seduced Ford, who deserves so much better. I'd have let you live if you'd gone away. If you'd let this house die. But you kept throwing it in my face. I won't have that, Cilla. I see what you are. Hennessy and I are the only ones."
"I'm not Janet. They'll never believe I killed myself."
"She did. Your mother attempted it-or pretended to-twice. You're fruit from the tree." Casually, Cathy tucked back her swing of hair with her free hand. "Pressured into becoming engaged, distraught over causing the death of a man whose life your grandmother ruined. I'll be able to testify how anxious you were for everyone to leave you alone. If only we'd known."
"I'm not Janet," she stated, and tossed the remaining contents in her glass into Cathy's face.
The action had Spock leaping up, the grumbling going to a snarl. As his head rammed against Cathy, Cilla grabbed for the bottle, saw herself smash it against Cathy's head. But, impaired by the pills, she swung wide and barely grazed her temple.
It was enough to have Cathy tipping in the stool. Cilla lurched forward, shoved while the dog jumped against the teetering stool. The gun went off, plowing a bullet into the ceiling as the stool toppled.
Fight or flight. She feared she had little of either in her. As her knees buckled, she let herself fall on Cathy, raked her nails down Cathy's face. The scream was satisfying, but more was the certainty that even if she died, they'd know. She had Cathy Morrow under her nails. She grabbed Cathy's hair, yanked, twisted for good measure. Plenty of DNA, she thought vaguely as her vision dimmed at the edges. And Spock's snarling barks went tinny in her ears.
She swung out blindly. She heard shouting, another scream. Another shot. And simply slid away.
FORD'S HEART SKIDDED when he saw Cathy's car in his drive. He wouldn't be too late. He couldn't be. He slammed to a stop behind the Volvo and ran halfway to his door before his instincts stopped him.
Not here. The farm. He spun around, began to run. It had to be at the farm. He cursed, as he'd cursed for miles, the fact that his phone sat on Brian's bar.
When he heard the shot, the fear he thought he knew, the fear he thought he tasted, paled against a wild and mindless terror.
He threw himself against the door, shouting for Cilla as he heard Spock's manic barks. Someone screamed like an animal. He flew into the kitchen. It flashed in front of him, etched itself forever in his memory.
Cilla sprawled over Cathy, fists flailing as if they were almost too heavy to lift. Cathy with blood running down her face, her eyes mad with pain and hate as Spock snapped and growled. The gun in her hand. Turning, turning toward Cilla.
He leaped, grabbing Cathy's wrist with one hand, shoving Cilla clear with the other. He felt something, a quick bee sting at his biceps, before he wrenched the gun from Cathy's hand.
"Ford! Thank God!" Cathy reached for him. "She went crazy. I don't know what happened. I don't know what she's on. She had the gun, and I tried-"
"Shut up," he said coldly, clearly. "If you move, I swear to God, for the first time in my life, I'll hit a woman. Spock, knock it off! And I'll make it count," he told Cathy. "So shut the fuck up." He aimed the gun at her as he edged toward Cilla. "Or I may do worse than knock you out. Cilla. Cilla."
He checked for wounds, then lifted her eyelid as Spock bathed her face frantically with his tongue. "Wake up!" He slapped her, lightly at first. "Move one more inch," he warned Cathy in a voice he barely recognized himself. "Just one more. Cilla!" He slapped her again, harder, and watched her lids flutter. "Sit up. Wake up." One-handed, he pulled her up to sit. "I'm calling for an ambulance, and the cops. You're all right. Do you hear me?"
"Seconal," she managed, then braced herself with one hand. And shoved her fingers ruthlessly down her throat.
LATER, A LONG TIME LATER, Cilla sat under the blue umbrella. Spring had gone, and summer nearly, she thought. She'd be here when the leaves changed and burned across the mountains. And when the first snow of the season fell, and the last. She'd be here, she thought, in all the springs to come, and the seasons to follow.
She'd be home. With Ford. And with Spock. Her heroes.
"You're still pale," he said. "Lying down might be a better idea than fresh air."
"You're still pale," she countered. "You were shot."
He glanced down at his bandaged arm. "Grazed" was the more accurate word. "Yeah. Eventually, that'll be cool. I got shot once, I'll say, rushing in-just a little too late again-to save the love of my life before she saved herself."
"You did save me. I'd lost it. I CSI'd her," she added, wiggling her fingers. "But I was done. You and Spock-fierce doggie," she murmured as she bent down to nuzzle him. "You saved my life. Now you have to keep it."
He reached over, took her hand. "That's the plan. I nearly went in the wrong house. That's it, Cilla. No more two households for us. I nearly went to the wrong one. Then I would've been too late."
"You figured it out, and you came for me. You can draw all the heroes you want. You're mine."
"Hero, goddess and superdog. We're pretty lucky, you and me."
"I guess we are. Ford, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry for Brian."
"We'll help him get through it." No question there, Ford thought, no choice. "We'll find a way to help him get through it."
"She carried that betrayal with her all these years. And couldn't stand what I came here to do. In a way, this house was a symbol for both of us." She studied it-her pretty home, the fresh paint, the windows glinting in the early morning sun.
"I needed to bring it back; she needed to watch it die. Every fresh board, every coat of paint, a slap in the face to her. The party? Can you imagine how that must have gnawed at her? Music and laughter, food and drink. And wedding talk. How could she stand it?"
"I knew them both all my life and never saw through it. So much for the writer's power of observation."
"They put it away. Locked it in a closet. She watched Janet die." That still twisted in her heart. "She had it in her to watch. And she had it in her to put it away, to remake herself. To raise her family, to shop with her friends, to bake cookies and make the beds. And to drive by here, every once in a while, so she could let it out."
"Like a pressure valve."
"I'd say so. And I locked down the valve. My grandmother didn't commit suicide. That's going to be major news. Cameras, print, movie of the week-perhaps a major motion picture. More books, talk shows. Much."
"I think I've got the picture by now. No warning necessary. Your grandmother didn't commit suicide," he repeated.
"No, she didn't." When her eyes filled, the tears felt like redemption. "She didn't leave my mother, not in the way Mom always thought. She bought a lipstick-pink couch with white satin cushions. She grieved for a lost child and prepared for another.
"Not a saint," Cilla continued. "She slept with another woman's husband, and would have broken up his family without a qualm. Or much of one."
"Cheating's a two-way street. Tom betrayed his wife, his family. And even when he claimed he'd broken it off, he slept with Janet again. He had a pregnant wife and a child at home, and slept with the image-and refused to take responsibility for the consequences."
"I wonder if it was the brutality of that last letter that snapped Janet's feeling for him, had her come back, face him down with the facts. 'I'm pregnant, the baby's yours, but we don't want or need you.'"
She let out a breath. "I like to think so."
"Plays, doesn't it? Sure jibes with what Tom told me. Cathy took and destroyed the pregnancy results, but she didn't know about the letters. She didn't know about Gatsby."
"Janet kept the letters, I think, to remind her that the child was conceived in at least the illusion of love. And to remind herself why it would belong to only her. I think, too, she made certain the farm couldn't be sold because she wanted the child to have it one day. Johnnie was gone, and she knew my mother had no real ties to it. But she had another chance.
"And maybe there will always be questions, but I have the answers I needed. I wonder if I'll still dream of her, the way I always have."
"Do you want to?"
"Maybe. Sometimes. But I think I'd like to start dreaming about what might happen, about what I hope for, rather than what used to be." She smiled when he brushed his lips over her fingers.
"Take a walk with me." He got to his feet, drew her to hers. "Just you. Just me." He looked down at Spock as the dog did his happy dance. "Just us."
She walked with him across the stones, over the grass still damp with dew, with roses madly blooming and the last of the summer's flowers unfolded like jewels. Walked with him while the sweet, ugly dog chased his invisible cats around the pond strung with lily pads.
With her hand in his, she thought this was dream enough for her. Right now. With the three of them happy and safe and together.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold