Chapter I

 

Linda starts pacing towards the balcony door and back to the balcony. She’s been like this since she got up that morning. She can’t shake the feeling of dread threatening to overpower her.

You will pay for your devious ways! You and your worthless husband and son! I will rid the earth of the McElroys!

Linda shudders at the thought of what that vindictive woman might do next. It wasn’t enough that Nick is in a bind with the money laundering case he is facing now, she even went as far as orchestrating a kidnapping for her son’s girlfriend or whoever she is. Quite frankly, she didn’t care who the girl was. What she was concerned about was her son’s safety during that dangerous rescue they did. She learned from Nick that according to their men, there was an encounter and although Morrison was unharmed, he faced a lot of flying bullets. She just hung up the phone with Nick a few minutes ago and now, she thinks back to how their conversation went…

 

“What do you mean don’t panic, Nick!? You just told me bullets were flying past him. How could I not be worried? Why aren’t you worried? He’s our son, Nick!” she screamed at him over the phone as he calmly communicated what had happened.

“I know that he’s my son, Linda. He’s our only child. So don’t lecture me on being a parent because I am worried and I want him to be okay. But that is not the right thing to do right now. I know him, Linda. He can defend himself and I have my men standing by. They have actually engaged but covertly because I gave specific instructions for them not to show themselves. Do you think that one guy can defend them with just one gun?” he replied sharply. He knew that Linda was panicking because that’s how she usually was, especially when it came to her only son.

“But Nick… I want him out of there and back to our house. He needs to be protected from whoever it is who’s targeting you and our family. We need to keep each other safe! Promise me, Nick! Promise me that you’ll get him home safe and sound!” she pleaded while sobbing uncontrollably.

Nick knew he had to reassure his wife so he did. “I promise, Linda. I will do everything that I can to get him out of there and back in New York.” But it might be difficult to get Morrison back right away, unless Cornelia agrees to go back with him. His son was besotted with his young assistant and he couldn’t blame him. He knew what it was like to fall in love when he was younger. But that was a different story…

Nick called up the private guards who were at the drop site as well and asked the current situation. He learned that it was then contained and although Morrison and his companions drove safely away, the thugs who kidnapped the girl, also got away. They couldn’t show themselves right away, which gave the goons the time to get away with the boat they used.

He gave instructions to follow Morrison and ensure that they remain safe. He decided to call his son after a few hours once he’s settled so he could know his situation.

He turned his thoughts to the evidence that the kidnappers wanted. Of course, he had already made a copy just in case something happened to the original ones. What he found out was quite confusing. He found that there were accounts in the ledger that led to a particular name whom he had dealings with before. A certain lady named Angela de Grassi. The name de Grassi is well known and he’s had the pleasure of knowing a de Grassi about four years ago.

“But this couldn’t be her. They might just share a last name…,” he says to himself.

They were supposed to go into business together about four years ago but something happened and their deal was off. He knew exactly why their deal went awry but Linda was the one who took care of the details so he wouldn’t have to deal with it. He must admit that she wasn’t really the best person for the job but she arrived at that opportune time that Nick was at a convention in Paris and had met the lovely de Grassi. The certain de Grassi lady was quite a distraction for Nick. Nick always suspected that Linda might have found out about their affair and decided to step in to remind him that she was still his wife.

He pushed the thought to the back of his mind that moment and proceeded to preparing for a meeting with his lawyers. He’ll call Morrison later and possibly convince him to get back to the city where he could put some bodyguards on watch, twenty-four seven. He decided not to tell Morrison of the guards he sent because he didn’t want him to think that he didn’t trust him with dealing with the situation. It was all too complicated for them at the moment and he’s just trying to do his best to keep his family and company alive and not let his life’s work go down the drain because of some unseen enemy.

 

She shakes her head to clear her thoughts. She’s been keeping a secret from Nick over the past year about a dangerous adversary.

Not everyone really gets how Linda is. She means well when it comes to her family and she’s willing to do anything, and that means everything, to keep her family intact and in good condition according to her outlook. She’s like a ferocious mother protecting her cubs when it comes to Morrison and her claws would come out at the slightest hint of her family being threatened.

Unfortunately, that kind of mentality also puts her in a bad light especially to people who gets close enough to Nick or Morrison. She would go behind their backs to do background checks on people she thinks would be a threat to them, may it be a greedy business partner or a gold digging girlfriend. She didn’t care about hurting those people in question or even possibly putting them in dangerous situations as long as those people left her family alone.
Because of her judgmental and untrusting attitude, she has always been the most popular person in lots of circles but never for a good reason. She has gained lots of enemies whose wanted her comeuppance to happen really soon and with such force that would finally knock her down a few pegs.
So far, she’s had minor snags in the past but never like this. It’s not that she’s afraid because she is still every bit the fighter, but she fears for her family. The family she has built since she married Nick. Her family includes their amassed wealth, of course. She is accustomed to their way of life. Aside from losing her husband and son, what she fears the most is being poor. She’s never had to work for money or food all her life and she wouldn’t have the slightest clue what to do when the time comes that she had to work to survive.

Oh, what should I do now? I can’t tell Nick because he would never forgive me if he found out what I had done four years ago…, she thinks to herself.

 

Linda Ellis was a young and beautiful budding Southern belle when she met Nick McElroy. She had him on her sights ever since she saw him on one of the business magazines her father always read before. He was the up and coming young businessman who had made his break with his family’s string of companies.

She was in love.

“Oh, Daddy, would you please invite him over for lunch or dinner or something? Or you could have him as a guest on that gathering you’re having next month?” she pleaded her father as they were having their breakfast at their house. Their family was originally from Virginia and they have lived there ever since the late 1800s. The house that stood on a hundred acre land was one that her great-grandfather built with his own hands when they first settled there. It was a grand house and she loved every bit of it.

They had other lands with even bigger land areas. The Ellis’ were also the biggest producers of sugar and cotton since the Depression and they have maintained that reputation up to that day.

Being an only child afforded her lots of privileges and being the only heir of their massive estates has made her a prime catch in the country. She was also very beautiful and regal, one who was born into privilege and class. She’s the epitome of grandness. Most of the girls in town were envious of her and she made it a point to flaunt her advantage over them to the point of being s stuck-up bitch.

When her best friend snagged a rich boyfriend when they were in College, she drew him over to her with her coy plays and flighty behavior. Susan Morgan always hated her but wanted to be close to the Ellis’ because of their money and fame. So she endured Linda’s behavior and let go of Hank when Linda showed interest in him. As much as she was in love with the young lad, she broke up with him and even told him to pursue Linda if he wanted to which he didn’t at first but Linda’s persistence got to him and they eventually dated for a while. But as do all relationships that were not really meant to be in the first place, they parted ways and Linda even caused a nasty scene telling everyone that he cheated when she was the one who had a tryst with some local boy.

That was Linda in her youth and when she finally got Nick, she never let go of him or her devious ways. She made sure that she never had any competition for him. She always got what she wanted and always had her way in things.

Except that day when Nick saw Julie Lewis Wilson, daughter of another businessman who was not that known at that time. Linda got wind of their chance meeting but didn’t think Nick would have any interest in her since they were not really big in the business world. She didn’t pay any mind to it even if her source – who was a member of her charity group of friends, of course – told her that the young woman was quite lovely indeed.

“Nick would never even glance at her if her father’s company was worth anything, believe me. Nick is just looking for prospective business partners. That’s all,” she scoffed, feeling confident that she’s got Nick on the palm of her hands.

What she never realized was that Nick had fallen in love and when one was in love, he never looks at a person’s worth in money but their worth to that particular person.

She realized that Nick was serious about the girl when it was already going on for months. He even had the nerve to get her pregnant. That sent her off the roof and she vowed that they would never be together, not if she had anything to say about it.

It was a good thing that the girl’s father also didn’t approve of their union and made sure that they didn’t get together so Linda just let him do his part. When the stupid girl ran away, she made sure that she stayed away by keeping watch of her actions, where she lived, if she had a job, a house, etc.

She was happy for a few years that Nick had seemed to give up in finding the girl but he had a sudden slip up and tried launching a search for her again. He found her but the girl had the sense of not showing him their child, only giving him a painting of hers, which he still kept in his study.

Linda panicked when she heard of this but didn’t dare take down the painting and question him about it for fear that he would find out about her activities as well. It didn’t progress though so she didn’t do anything about it. The girl didn’t want anything to do with him anymore and he seemed to let her go.

But ten years ago, Nick had completely changed his mind about Linda and their marriage. One day, he asked for a divorce and his reason was that he was not happy anymore. There was something missing in his life and as much as he loved their son, he couldn’t stand to let his other family be estranged. He wanted to look for Julie and their child again.

“I know you know everything, Linda… you always do. I want a divorce. I want to feel happy. I want to do right by Julie and our daughter. Please…,” he whispered as they were face to face in their grand living room in their house in New York.

Linda was in shock. “Wh-what are y-you talking about, Nick? Are you out of your mind? After almost twenty years of being together, you want to quit just like that?!” her voice started out soft but it was escalating to a high pitched one quickly.

“Linda… we both know that this is a marriage of convenience, a partnership of our companies. It was never based on loving each other… And you’ve only cemented our marriage by adopting Morrison, which I do not regret because he is the best thing that ever happened to us, but aside from that, we don’t have anything Linda. I don’t want to keep living a lie. I want out,” he said firmly, his brows drawn together telling her that he was serious.

“No! You can’t do this to me Nick! After all I have done to keep us all together? After turning a blind eye to your stupid dallying around with other women! After I have put up with your lousy ways, you have the nerve to ask for a divorce?! You are just one selfish son of a bitch! That’s what you are!” She was so angry at him that she confirmed that she knew everything he has done with other women.

Nick was never the ladies man but women always flocked to him. He had that certain charisma, a silent and mysterious appeal that drew women of any age to him like moths to a flame. Even in his advanced age, he still had women take second looks when he passed them by.

“That’s what you think, Linda. I never had any other affair aside from Julie. I know that’s wrong and despicable of me but I love her. I don’t want to hurt you even further as I have done all these years that’s why I am doing this. Can’t you understand? Do you still want to be married to me knowing that I love someone else? Can you stand living with me still?” Nick raked his fingers through his hair out of frustration. He couldn’t get through her. She was being the stubborn brat she was.

“No! No matter what you do, Nick, I will not divorce you. I will not let the family I have worked for in building all these years fall to pieces because of your flimsy affection! No one is married for love anymore. People stay married because it is practical and gives them security. Love cannot feed you when you’re hungry. It cannot save you from your debts!” she kept shouting words at him and as their kept on talking, Morrison’s heart kept breaking into a million pieces.

He was kneeling on the stairs right above them. He didn’t mean to listen to them but they were getting so loud to ignore from his room. He crept from his bed, into the hall, and sat on the steps of the big staircase. Their house was huge which didn’t do anything in containing their voices. If anything, the high walls even amplified their shouts.

Nick stormed out of the house after failing at talking any sense to Linda while she wept on the floor of the living room.

Morrison, at a young age of nearly fifteen, was pained for his mother and started hating his father. He knew that he was adopted since he was a baby. They told him when he was old enough to understand and he owed everything to them but he was closer to his mother since she was his primary caregiver. She cared and loved him unconditionally and even if his father was the same way, he was mostly away for business.

He couldn’t understand why his father had to destroy their family. They were so happy together and it was the first time he saw them in a shouting match. They might have had fights before but they never escalated that way like what he heard that night. He heard what it was all about. It was about a woman that Nick wants to be with. He was leaving his mother because of another woman.

How could he do that? Didn’t he care about them anymore? Doesn’t he realize that if he did it, he would break his mother’s heart and his?

He clenched his palms into fists and took a deep breath.

I can’t think of myself right now. I have to think about mother. I have to be there for her like how she has been with me. I will never let him hurt her any longer. He vowed to himself as he went down the stairs, took one look at Linda, and gave her a tight hug.

He didn’t have to utter any words. His embrace to her said it all and all Linda could do was weep even more for she realized that her son would be her closest ally. She rejoiced in that thought but felt despair in Nick’s wavering love her and their family that he would risk them breaking apart for that woman.

She would pay for this! I will make her pay!

And she did. She went to New Jersey herself and went to Julie’s workplace. She never hesitated. She slapped Julie across the face and said hateful words and threatened to drag her down to the dirt if she ever showed her face in New York or to Nick ever again.

“You slut! Do you think you could get away with your plan to take him away from me?!” she hurled her words at her while Julie was on a break in front of her office.

“Wh-what are you talking about?” but she knew exactly what she was talking about. She couldn’t believe that Linda Ellis McElroy came to her place of office. How did she find her in the first place? Was the first thought that came to her mind the moment she saw the familiar walk of someone who never had a hard day.

Nick had contacted her years before, when Cornelia was about six or seven years old and she only agreed to meet him because she wanted to clear the air and make things clear between them. She admitted to him that she gave birth to their daughter but refused to let him see her. She gave him a painting that Cornelia made just that year and told him that the painting was the best thing she could give him as a keepsake or reminder of Cornelia but she couldn’t show her to him… at least not yet. He seemed to genuinely feel pain and regret but she hardened her heart and thought about Cornelia’s future. She would rather have Cornelia think that her father died rather than let her deal with an absentee father. She could deal with getting her heart trampled by the guy but she couldn’t let her daughter experience the same fate.

That was almost three years ago and then came Linda barging into the place where she worked, interrupting her on her break time to rant and rave about a husband she couldn’t control. This realization gave way to anger after her initial shock at seeing her there.

“Oh you know as well as I do that you have sunk your slutty nails into my husband’s mind again and made him think that he could ever have a future with you and your bastard child!” was Linda’s response to Julie’s confused question.

The sound of flesh meeting flesh rang in the air as Julie slapped Linda hard on the face.

“How dare you come to my territory and accuse me of lies! I have not spoken to your husband in nearly three years and the last we did speak was because I broke off all connections with him! Why don’t you ask your husband why he suddenly had a change of heart after all these years, huh?” she exclaimed at Linda whose eyes grew big at the fact that Julie slapped her.

She attempted to slap her back but Julie held fast and stopped her hand from connecting to her face.

“You! Get your hands off me, you homewrecker!” she retorted, making sure that the people around them could hear her clearly. She was so mad at not being able to slap her back but she made sure to get even in another way.

“Why don’t you just go back to where you came from and leave me the hell alone! Tell that to your cheating husband as well!” shouted Julie. She didn’t care that her colleagues could hear her and that they saw the spectacle happen right in front of their eyes. She never felt so mad than what she felt at that moment.

“Just you wait! You can never get any jobs anymore! I’ll make sure you suffer and your child along with you! Don’t come crying to me when you’re all out of options. I told you, back off! If you had the sense of leaving Nick alone, this would never have happened,” Linda threatened.

It was like a bucket of water that was dumped straight to her face. Julie realized that Linda Ellis McElroy is a very powerful woman and she had every influential friends. If she gets sacked at her current job, it would be hard for her to get another one because Linda would make sure of that.

She stayed silent and wide-eyed as Linda stalked off towards her Mercedes, shades and expensive handbag on hand, heels clicking on the pavement, and a lingering smile of pure maliciousness on her lips. Oh, she was planning something all right and if there was anything Linda was good at, it was in planning things, good or bad.

Julie went home that day, clearly troubled and agitated. Cornelia noticed it and it went on for a week. Until the last day that Julie ever drove her to school. Julie was especially happy that day like she had forgotten whatever it was that was plaguing her for more than a week. Cornelia didn’t dare ask her about it outright for fear that she might get the brunt of her mother’s anger- although Julie rarely got angry with her or with anything in particular.

Linda had taunted Julie for the next few days, calling her up and shouting accusations at her and threatening to have her arrested for adultery and all other bullshit accusations. Julie usually hung up once she realized it was Linda but Linda knew that she was getting to her especially by the end of the first week.

“This is just the beginning, Julie. Just you wait,” she snickered after yet another call to Julie. She had told her that she was fired from her job and banned for getting a new one in town, which was not a lie.

Linda managed to coerce the manager of the office Julie was working on and told him lies about Julie like drug addiction and that Julie was secretly hiding her addiction with alcohol as well. She even went as far as accusing Julie as a thief, telling the manager that it was the reason she was very secretive, that she didn’t want to be found out about her past crimes in New York. Linda had people fabricate criminal records that she sent to the manager’s fax and even posted them on the job site used in that town.

Linda did her best at manipulating circumstances and lying to people to make it hard for Julie.

Finally, on the last day of the week, Julie dropped Cornelia at school and smiled sweetly at her daughter before spending the day at the park, just looking at the green grass and the falling leaves. It was nearly summer and despite the warm weather, she had never felt so cold.

What now? What would become of us now? Oh God, please help me! I can’t let Cornelia down. I can’t go to Nick for help either!

Then she finally entertained the thought of going back to her father. She’s been receiving aid from him every month since she walked out of their house and locked him away from their lives. She blamed him for her not seeing Nick all those times when they could have solved their predicament but over the years, she simply fought the urge to forgive him because of Cornelia. She wanted her to stand on her own two feet and never to depend on anybody for her survival. She taught her that the world has never done them any favors and they should not expect goodness from people.

But as she watched a family – a mother, a father, and a child – play and giggle in the falling leaves, she felt a pang of envy. For almost ten years, she had no one to share her life, her happiness, and pains with, except for Cornelia. It made her think that she was being unfair to her child for keeping her away from the only family she had.

After almost spending the whole day just reflecting and thinking about her options, she made the decision to contact James that night once they got home. This thought gave her a new sense of joy, something that she rarely felt when it came to the topic of going back to her roots. But at that moment, it was the best shot they had. She would swallow her pride and go back to James in order to protect Cornelia from Linda’s misguided wrath.

As she was driving towards Cornelia’s school, she came upon a high cliff and slowly pushed the brakes but then it didn’t catch. She pushed again and again with all her might but it wouldn’t budge. She had no brakes!

“Oh my God! Help!” she shouted, rolling her window down and honking her horn but there were no other cars on the highway. She was approaching the cliff and she decided just to jump and take her chances on the hard ground of the highway but then her seatbelt got jammed. It took only a few seconds for her to reach the edge of the cliff and it was too late for her to jump. She braced herself and the last thought on her mind was of Cornelia running around in the playground, all smiles and squealing in delight as she chased her around with their puppy. She was about four years old then and it was one of the happiest times they ever had, just the two of them, with no worries in the world, just being together and feeling complete.

She smiled and closed her eyes as her car hit the tall trees below.

The next thing she knew, Cornelia was by her side, fighting tears. She told her something but she can’t really understand herself then and sent a prayer for her daughter before letting the pain take over.

Julie’s death was reported in the local news and Linda stared at the television set, paralyzed in her seat, as Nick walked in and the news had just ended.

“Oh my God…,” she whispered then looked at Nick’s confused face.

“What? What’s the matter, Linda?” he asked, putting his suitcase down and approaching his wife. He had a fight a few weeks ago but he chose then to just dismiss his sudden longing for Julie and their daughter.

The decision to find them and get a divorce from Linda was a spur of the moment thing for Nick. He was drunk one night then he glanced at the painting his daughter made. It made him melodramatic and reminiscent of the love he felt for Julie. Yes, they met about three years ago when he finally tracked down a phone number that possibly led to her, which it eventually did, but she refused to tell him where she was and just agreed to meet him some other place. He demanded to see his daughter but she just gave him that painting saying that it was the best she could give him from his daughter because Julie would never let him see her. He pleaded with her and begged her to see reason for the sake of the child but she was cold and hard as stone. She had changed but he still saw some semblance of the young, spirited lady he fell in love with all those years ago. They were victims of wrong circumstances but he guessed that Julie was hit the hardest with those unfortunate circumstances.

He wouldn’t let Julie go without seeing their daughter but she started making a scene, which caught the attention of some bystanders so he decided to back off and accept what she had to give at that time. He vowed to her that he would never stop wooing her and would never cease convincing her to come back to him, even telling her that he would divorce Linda. Julie asked him if he was still with her and he answered truthfully.

“Just as I thought. You know what, Nick. My father was always right about you. You will never divorce her or risk losing her because she has power over you. She owns half of everything you do so divorcing her would be so brutal that you would abandon that attempt altogether in the end,” she scoffed and made her final stand. “No, we don’t want you in our lives. No, you may not see me and especially Cornelia ever. No, you cannot know where we are and if you do find out, I will know and I would willingly get her as far away from you as possible. So this is the last time we would ever see each other, Nick. Do not come looking for us or I will have you arrested,” she said with a very firm and unwavering voice.

She walked away then and all Nick could do was stare at her retreating back. He battled with himself if he should go after her and convince her some more or if he should just accept the fact that she was right about Linda having power over him because it was the truth.

That night when nostalgia and longing for the woman whom he has lost was the spark that lit the flame of asking Linda for a divorce. He went home that night, intoxicated and with anger in his heart and got into a shouting match with Linda over him asking for a divorce. He eventually walked out when she wouldn’t concede to his wish, and woke up the next day realizing that he was wrong. He let his heart rule his mind. It wasn’t the practical thing to do. So he forgot about it and let the incident go. They went about their days without discussing the matter further. Linda seemed satisfied that Nick never mentioned it to her again.

Then he got home one night and saw the horror on Linda’s face. He asked her what the matter was but she just shook her head and said it was about her friend losing a daughter.

“Whose daughter? Are they from your charity organizations?” he asked moving towards her to give her a hug. They had gone closer again, mostly because Linda made sure that he was reminded of how she takes care of him.

She hugged him back and said distractedly, “No… no, ah, she was one of the beneficiaries of the charity foundation I put up in the smaller towns in Jersey. I- I’ll just send some flowers or something. It’s just shocking if someone dies, you know…”

Nick sighed and got a drink from the decanter at the bar, “Makes you think about your time on earth. Time is fleeting and we’re not getting any younger.”

Linda had an idea to make sure that Nick doesn’t find out about Julie’s death right away. Not that she was happy about what happened to Julie but it served a purpose for her to finally keeping Nick at her side.

“I totally agree with you, which actually gave me an idea. I want to go away for a few weeks. Somewhere far away with no media, no distractions, just us. It’s been a while since we went sailing. What do you say?” she asked hoping he says yes at once so she wouldn’t have to resort to forcing him by reminding him of his past blunders about divorce.

Nick gave it a thought and took a deep breath.

“I think… that it’s a great idea! I do have some downtime for the next couple of weeks. Where do you plan to go?” he asked, sitting down next to her, glad that she suggested that they go away. It was a time for him to make up for asking a divorce. He realized he was stupid and that Julie would never agree to marry him anyway. He’s better off with Linda because she would never leave him. He would just find a way to get close to his daughter in the future.

They discussed their itinerary over a glass of wine and laughed a couple of times. It was one of the most enjoyable talks they ever had.

At the same time, Cornelia was crying herself to sleep, thinking about the father who never had the guts to stand up for them. She had vowed that night to do what she had to do to get even. To remember that night that her mother died in despair and she was left to fend for herself.

That was how she distracted her husband from finding his daughter but it didn’t take long for Nick to find out and he did. When they got back from their vacation after a month, he learned of the tragic accident and immediately set out to look for Cornelia. However, even with his private investigators looking into the matter, they just couldn’t find her. It was as if she disappeared entirely from the face of the earth. Whenever they asked the police station, the cops would say that it was a confidential case and the records were sealed.

“What do you mean they’re sealed? Where is the little girl?!” Nick said frantically to the cop at the local police station. He went to New Jersey, at the town where the accident happened and figured it was where Julie lived her secluded life for the past ten years.

“I said they are sealed. So if you don’t have any other questions Mr. McElroy, please find your way out. I don’t want to have to arrest you for public disturbance,” the unfeeling policeman said.

Nick couldn’t do anything but growl out his frustration and walked out of the station. He called his lawyer and friend and asked the details of such a case. He learned that he, basically, couldn’t do anything if the case was confidential and shut out from the public. It might be that she’s on protective custody or something like that, for the legal system to prevent anyone from finding her. Or maybe someone just doesn’t want her found.

“So you’re telling me I can’t do anything to find my child? What the fuck kind of system do we have!” he shouted over the phone then apologized for his rashness.

“I understand Nick and I would feel that way if I were in your shoes but unless you have proof that you’re the father, you can’t get custody or even see her. I suggest that you just let this go. I’m sure she’s in a better place. We have a good system for displaced children. I’m sure she’s in a good home or at least a nice orphanage.” His lawyer and supposed “friend” neglected to mention that Linda paid him big money to discourage Nick from finding the girl and just to convince him that she’s better off without Nick looking for her.

“Are you sure about that? I mean, how would you know if she went to a good home? And she shouldn’t be going to anybody else’s home. She should be going home with me. I’m her father for Christ’s sake!” Nick was getting worked up again.

“Calm down, Nick. It won’t do you any good if you don’t keep your cool. Tell you what, we’ll keep looking or I could at least find out if she’s in good hands. But don’t expect me to get her location because I can’t but again, I could ask some friends about her if they’ve heard about her.”

Nick thanked him profusely and urged him to look into it so he would know how his daughter was doing. He would’ve wanted to take her home with him but he didn’t have any proof that he was the father. Julie never gave him any legal document about their child and he knew that she kept her mother’s maiden name so the child would naturally follow hers since she was a single mother.

After a few weeks, the lawyer gave him some lie about the kid being in a place that was nice and safe for her, even showing some fake photos of the girl in a swing set, playing in a playground full of other kids, looking happy and satisfied. Nick totally fell into it and thanked him for looking into it.

“But I still want to get custody of her. How do I do that?” he asked.

“Well, we could wait until she’s legally an adult and then talk to her then or again, get some proof that you’re the biological father. Other than that, we can’t do anything. It’s a court appointed home for her and as you can see, she’s very happy and safe there. Away from anyone who might want to harm her. Believe me, Nick, you don’t want this kind of publicity if the world found out that their most respected family man had an affair and a child with a young woman who was tragically killed in a roadside accident. What would that make of you then?” the lawyer pointed out.

“I personally do not give a fuck what people say,” Nick replied.

“But your employees and shareholders do. They care who and what kind of person they do business with. So as your friend and advisor, let this go. Wait for a few years and then you could talk to her when she’s all grown up to understand. You’re both better off on your own.”

Nick was convinced that his daughter was better off without him at that point in time and let the matter go, vowing to go to her once she’s emancipated from the state. Then he learned that she had run away when she was sixteen and hasn’t been found since. He sent out his investigators but again, they couldn’t find even a thread of her whereabouts. He started to think that there was something fishy going on and that someone was deliberately trying to hide his daughter from him but never got to go further into finding out because it was when he entered a new venture in his business that distracted him even further.

Linda was glad that Nick started letting go of the thought of finding his biological daughter. She was tired of having to pay off people to lie to him and hide wherever Cornelia was. She had asked her friend, who happened to be a judge in New Jersey and who handled the Lewis case. She had orchestrated the child’s transfer to the orphanage and to seal the records.

“You owe my father, John,” Linda said to the judge, reminding him rather unsubtly about his past and that Linda’s father had to bail him out of a possible murder charge. The Ellis’ were very powerful in lots of places and that included New Jersey so when Linda had asked a judge for a favor, she was sure to get it.

Cornelia was written off as an orphan and chucked to the least organized orphanage in the state and her name was even changed to mask who she really was. Not until she ran away on her own did Linda have her peace of mind. At last, she wouldn’t have to keep paying those idiots to keep her from being found in that place. Now, the girl could go wherever she wanted and Nick would never find out what happened and what she did.

Until a whole new kind of adversary came along and threatened to crush the very foundations of her life… her family…

When Nick met Gia de Grassi, Linda’s world started to crumble down her feet again… It wasn’t like that with Julie, it was something entirely different because Gia was so much like her. She had the same, if not more, power in terms of influence and money. The de Grassi’s were very prominent in Europe and other parts of the world, not only in the U.S. and when a de Grassi takes an interest in you and your company, you would usually fall to your knees and treat it as an answered prayer.

It was like that for Nick for his business never truly skyrocketed until the de Grassi’s started being an investor.

Nick met with the ambitious and glamourous daughter and heir of the de Grassi family, Gia, at a luncheon in Paris. What started as a friendly and “strictly business” evening, turned out to be something more for the two. Nick and Gia slept together that night and started having an affair.

Linda found out about it right away and cried herself to sleep for the next several nights while Nick was still in Paris, spending time with the heiress.

“You will not leave me Nick McElroy. I vow to destroy whoever stands in our way! Including that slut!” she screamed at herself in the mirror and hurled a glass vase across the room of their bedroom. She was alone that night. That was four years ago. What she did next would seal their fates for the years to come…

 

Chapter II

 

Cornelia packs her suitcase hastily. She just had a heart-wrenching conversation with Morrison and with the loss of James that day, her heart and mind are not in the right condition to make drastic decisions. But all she wants to do is to get out of there. She had called Kevin earlier and asked about the arrangements of her grandfather’s funeral. She was informed that he is to be cremated on the following day. Kevin also asked her to stay after the ceremony so he could talk to her about James’ will together with the family lawyer.

“I will do as you ask of me but I am telling you now, I have no interest at all with James’ money. I loved him as a friend and considered him as my only family even before I knew all of this. That does not mean that I will take his money. Give it to his other family members no matter how distant they are…,” she told Kevin over the phone when she called him.

“Cornelia, I completely understand what you’re telling me but please, just come. We are certainly not going to force anything on you but please give it some careful thought for I know that you are the only beneficiary of James’ company and estates. He had no other family, at least ones that he considered his family, other than you. I’ll tell you more once you’re here… but please, come,” Kevin said with a sad but firm voice.

She couldn’t say “No”, even if she knows that she might break down in pieces once she fully accepted the fact that James had passed. The only person who showed compassion and concern was gone. She had no one to call for help anymore…

No one to send correspondence to when she found out something about Nick or the McElroys. But it was all a moot point now since James told her about the truth behind her past.

She will go to James’ funeral. It was the least she could do to honor her grandfather. She has not thought about what she would do afterwards but one thing is clear in her mind, she doesn’t want to see Morrison any longer, at least not in the near future, anyway. She needs to pick herself up and stand on her own before she can even face him because if he pushes her some more, she might crumble and give in to her love for him and end up going back into his arms.

He’s just an unnecessary distraction for her and she still has to make a decision if she wants to let Nick know of who she was or just stay silent about it.

“What possible satisfaction would I get if I tell him? It doesn’t matter anymore,” she whispers to herself as she zips up her bag. She didn’t bring much simply because she doesn’t have much really. Just a few practical clothes for the office but she wouldn’t need them anymore. She has decided to leave the firm regardless of what the outcome would be after James’ will is heard. She could never withstand seeing Morrison everyday and reporting to Nick knowing full well that he is her biological father.

She musters up the courage to get up and open her apartment door on her way out. She has a few hours to spare until she needs to travel back to the Hamptons and she doesn’t want to spend them cooped up in her apartment. She needs to go outside. She needs to see other people going about their business like nothing has changed in their routines. She needs to see some normalcy in people because her life had always been so far from normal and she’s starting to feel the weight of these discrepancies in her identity. She hasn’t had one day of peace after her mother died.

She walks towards the park where she had first met Morrison on the day that he almost ran her over with his bike. He was such a class act, taking her to the hospital an making sure she was all right after their accident at the park. It was the first time she ever felt cared for by someone else other than herself but she couldn’t realize it then. All her guards were up when she first met Morrison and even after her first impromptu date with Barret. She didn’t think she would meet the man who will make her heart beat faster than it has ever felt. All the while, she thought that she had gone cold and hard inside that nothing and no one could ever thaw that part of her.

According to Kevin, James wanted to be cremated and then placed at the mausoleum in his property in his New York home, the first ever home he had bought when he made it big in the business world.

The funeral itself will be held at James’ residence in the city, some place she has never been before. James had never asked her to come with him anywhere or even invited her to his home.

It was probably because he wasn’t comfortable with me in his private world, she thought but knowing James, it was far from that. He might have thought I wasn’t comfortable fully knowing his world. Yeah, that might be it. In any case, I will get to see his house now.

She wipes another stray tear from her left cheek and feels the breeze on her face, blowing away the moisture on her face. It was like a caress telling her that it was going to be all right.

Oh, mom, I wish you could be here with me so we could both pay our respects to grandfather, she whispers to herself.

She plans to spend the rest of the day in the park but also needs to be early at the crematorium before anybody else and leave before everybody comes. She just wants to pay her respects privately before his body is cremated. She wouldn’t be able to take it if she saw some people looking at her and wondering who the hell she was, at the back of their minds.

She decides to leave then and make her way to a café to make her arrangements. She calls and makes her reservations at a hotel near the address Kevin gave her. She’s never been to that part of the state and as she learned from researching about it, it takes up to more than six hours just to get there by land so she decided to book a flight going there instead.

“Okay, so it would take about an hour and a half for me to get there then I’d have to drive to the crematorium for half an hour then to James’ house for another hour. Okay… I can do that,” she said to herself after an hour of sitting at the café, having made the proper arrangements for her trip the next day.

She looks up and looks at the crowd, wondering where she could have been that very moment if she never knew James. Would she still be alive? Would she still be living in the streets? Who knows…

 

A pair of eyes looks at her from a distance.

“Yes, she’s still here. I don’t know… I’ll keep checking. Yes, sir… I will,” he says to someone on his phone.

He’s been following her since she left the hospital, making sure to keep a keen eye on her and her whereabouts. His employer specifically instructed him not to lose her at any time for she is a very important person to him. As far as he knows, she serves a higher purpose other than a grieving granddaughter of a rich old man who finally kicked the bucket. He remembered his employer saying that she is going to be gold mine and if she ends up cooperating, then they wouldn’t have to resort to forceful measures to get her to sign over the rich man’s companies and estates to his employer, that is.

She’s a top priority to his employer and he was given the task to monitor and tail her wherever she goes. He was given instructions to stay as her shadow and not harm her but if she won’t give up the old man’s riches to his boss, she would have to miraculously disappear and never ever come back.

If that happens, the next of kin would inherit Mr. Wilson’s fortune and they all knew that he doesn’t have other close relatives any more. Naturally, his employer – being deep in Mr. Wilson’s counsel – has his name written on that will, somewhere, and would eventually get everything once he eliminates all who stands in his way.

If his boss gets that inheritance, it would make him rich beyond measure and that would mean he, Gerald Deco, from the backstreets of Brooklyn, is going to get he’s been longing for all his life at last!

No more lousy jobs just to pay the bills. No more late nights doing dirty work for those goddamn stuck-up business owners.

He has been a hired thug all his life, ever since he turned seventeen and experienced being hungry with nothing to eat for almost three days. When he saw the chance to steal for food, he never hesitated. He’s been in and out of foster care starting at the age of two. His father walked out on them just after he was born and his mother tried his best with him but having poor health and empty pockets, she had to give him up for adoption when he was only two years old. A family eventually adopted him when he was three. They were decent and provided for his needs but having five other children of their own, they couldn’t let him go to a good school and had to give him up when he turned seven. He was turned over to five other foster families ever since, some were not favourable while the others were just barely decent. He started getting into the wrong crowd and into drugs when he turned fifteen then ran away when he was seventeen. He lived in the streets for a year then finally having sold his first ever, big stash of cocaine, he was able to get a place for himself but it was also the beginning of a string of police arrests.

At only twenty-two, he’s been to prison several times but only for minor charges; never for the jobs where he was paid lots of money for – eliminating people who were undesirable to his employers.

This time, it was Cornelia. He was offered big money, the biggest he’s ever been offered, for just trailing her around and then, when and if deemed necessary, kill her.

No more of this poor fucking life, he thinks to himself. He would live in a faraway place with plenty of sunlight and warm weather to go around, and no more of that dreadfully cold atmosphere in the city.

Gerald replaces his sunglasses and puts down the high-end binoculars his boss gave him to specifically use in spying on little miss heiress. He switches off his cellular phone and gets into a more relaxed position in the driver’s seat.

“I guess it’s going to be a long afternoon. Can’t this girl just get a move on? I’m so bored doing nothing… watching her stare off every few minutes like some crazy girl. But I must admit that she is a beauty, this one,” he smirks eyeing Cornelia’s pretty face and nicely shaped legs showing from her dress.

“Hmm, it’s not a bad view at all though.” He laughs despite the boredom that’s killing him by following her around.

And it was a long afternoon for Cornelia spent another two hours just sitting there and contemplating what her next steps would be. It was hard for her to figure it all at once but she had to start somewhere. So, she contacted another person who might be able to help her and felt satisfied that he was willing to help.

She pays for her food and stands out in the street to hail a cab going to the airport. Her flight would be in another three hours but she wants to get there early.

After boarding the plane, she fell into a deep slumber that lasted the whole trip and when she woke up, her plane was just beginning to land in the Buffalo Airport. She proceeds to her hotel and decides to go out to get some food for her dinner.

She hears her stomach grumble as she was getting her purse, “Ouch… must’ve been many hours since I had anything to eat,” she says to herself, realizing that the last time she ate was when Barret took her out for some food that morning, at the hospital. She arrived at around ten at night and it was ten-thirty on her watch.

“Oops, I hope there are restaurants or convenience stores still open around here. Where would I go though?” she asks herself as she closes her hotel room door. As soon as the magnetic stripe worked and locked her room, she set out towards the elevator and down to the lobby of the small but cozy hotel slash inn that she found in the internet.

Coincidentally, the name of the small hotel was Julie’s Labyrinth, which was actually the reason why she picked that hotel, because it had the same name as her mother’s.

She sees the concierge and asks politely, “Hi, there, umm,” she glances at her nametag and sees her name, “Marly, what a nice name,” she says smiling at the pretty young concierge.

“Well, thank you, Miss Lewis. How may I help you today?” she smiles graciously back.

“Yeah, I was wondering if you had any idea what place is still open right now for dinner. Or even a snack, that would be fine,” she replies and gives an apologetic smile at the lateness of the hour.

“Oh, you would be happy to know that our cook is still here and would be more than happy to get you what you want! Although, I do recommend the chicken soup and Caesar salad,” Marly whispers, winking as if giving her trade secrets of the hotel.

“Wow! I would love that, Marly. But I wouldn’t want to be a bother…,” she says uncertainly. She doesn’t want to keep the poor cook in for longer than he needed to be.

“Don’t be silly, Miss Lewis. It would be our pleasure to provide you all our ready services. Besides, Greg practically lives just a block from here so it shouldn’t be a bother for him to stay another hour for you. It would be overtime for him so that’s a win-win for all of us,” she beams and Cornelia can’t help but smile back at her contagious perky nature.

“Well, in that case, please show me the way to the kitchen then,” Cornelia answers enthusiastically. She starts to feel better after her lonely afternoon and tiring trip.

“Please follow the arrows that lead to the diner area. It shouldn’t be that hard to spot. Look for the red arrows that say “Resto”.” Marly points at the first arrow as Cornelia thanks her for her kindness and help.

When she reached the end of the arrows, there was a cozy room that had an open backdoor. It leads to a garden of flowers.

“Oh!” her breath catches in her throat and covers her mouth with her hand. She’s shocked to see a sea of flowers hidden at the back of the small hotel. She never even saw that in the listing in the internet but it sure is an added attraction to the place. “Such a beautiful garden…,” she whispers as she continues forward.

The open balcony, as it turns out, only has about five wooden tables all scattered about the small space that was enclosed with metal railings. But beyond the metal railing – that reaches up to her waist – is a path that leads to the flower garden beyond. A small gate with a latch at the middle of the railings was there to separate the balcony from the garden. It’s a lovely sight indeed even with the night sky and the yellowish lights surrounding the garden.

“Breathtaking, isn’t it?” she hears someone with a deep voice say. She turns around and sees a guy looking straight at her. “The flowers, I mean…,” he continues on to say.

She clears her throat and smiles at the man who spoke. He looks harmless enough with his unassuming smile and handsome face. He looks like he was on his way to a party or something with his tuxedo and closely cropped black hair. “Yes. It is. It’s such a spectacular piece of heaven in such a hidden space. How did they ever manage to contain it here?” she asks no one in particular.

“Well, it’s pretty easy really. All you need is a little bit of gardening skills and you’ll be able to duplicate one of these babies,” he answers her nonetheless.

She’s surprised at his confidence in claiming to know how to create such a masterpiece. “Oh really? So I suppose you’ve built this garden, then?” she asks a little sarcastically, raising an eyebrow.

“Not really,” he chuckles.

Thought so, she says to herself haughtily.

“But I own it so I’m actually taking some lessons. It’s a rather intricate art, gardening is,” he infers.

Then one of the waiters arrive and greeted the guy as his boss. Her eyes widen for a bit then she closes them altogether, almost dreading the guy’s arrogant introduction of himself but it never comes.

“Hi, the name’s Adam… Adam Rothman. Pleased to meet you, miss…?” he waits for her to give her name with a smile that was devoid of arrogance or sarcasm.

“C-Cornelia. Cornelia M-,” she pauses. “Lewis. My name is Cornelia Lewis. Sorry about that remark. I just thought you were making a joke of what I said. I didn’t mean anything by it,” she apologizes with her head trained at the floor.

He chuckles again, a deep, resonating sound that oddly warms her heart. “Oh, don’t feel bad about that. You seem quite cross with me back then. You look so cute when you’re angry, did you know that?” he winks at her as she shoots him shocked look. But then he laughs a hearty one and throws his hands up. “Please don’t get mad at me again. I was just playing with you.” He still has his hands up when Cornelia finally laughs out loud as well.

“You think you’re funny huh?” she tries mustering a serious voice but he makes it hard for her to stay serious because of his mischievous grin. “It’s not really very good to make fun of your guests, you know. It’s bad for business.” She adds, finally making a straight face.

“Oh, really? And I see that you’ve had great experience in that area, isn’t that right, Miss Lewis? Hmm, where have I heard that name before? Are you from around here? Are you possibly connected to the Wilson’s?” Adam asks, trying to look like he didn’t know who she really is.

“I’m sorry if I’m intruding. It’s just that your name sounds familiar. And I’m trying to see if you’re one of those hotel mystery shoppers or evaluators as he properly calls them.

They’ve had several evaluators so far since it’s the time of year again when the best hotels and inns in their area are checked for their safety, comfort, and value. Not that Adam wanted to win, for he’s never had, not by choice, but because he doesn’t want this place to be known to all, just the original patrons. He wants to preserve the rustic feel of the place, just like what he promised to the previous owner whom he grew to respect.

 

Julie’s Labyrinth was Adam’s first restaurant, which he bought about four years ago. He was a budding restaurant owner then, a family business of the Rothman’s of Buffalo, and he was taken with the place because of it’s view of the backyard. It was small and it didn’t have a nice view up front. One side of the roof was about to give and the paint was peeling. He hesitated in going in but he was told by a friend that he wouldn’t regret ever going inside of that place. When he saw the first blossom of roses at the threshold with the intricate woodcarvings on the walls and the warm, cozy feel, he immediately fell in love with the place.

When he walked into the backyard where a private room was then located, he saw that it wasn’t a closed room like what he thought. It wasn’t like a storeroom or a garage like he pictured.

The scent was the first one to assault the senses. It smelled like a field of flowers mixed with the freshness of the breeze. It was very un-assuming and pure. Then when he saw the first patch of dirt with a bunch roses, arranged by color, he couldn’t resist going all the way inside the room. At first, it looked like an ordinary doorway, and then he saw the night sky above his head since he went there for dinner that particular day. It had an open ceiling, giving it a clear nice view of the sky above. Yellowish light glowed on the four corners of the room to give it more illumination. The back of the room was open. It led to a garden tucked behind the restaurant. The whole place must have been an acre wide but the restaurant was only a small portion of it. Adam had no idea that it was so wide at the back. He then talked to the person in charge of the place and found out that it was the property of a Mr. James Wilson, a prominent businessman in those parts but mostly does his business overseas. Adam did his due diligence and made his proposal to James after three months. It was fortunate that James went home to his family estate that month and Adam didn’t waste his time in talking to him. After much discussion, James sold the restaurant to him but with two firm requests…

“You must maintain the secrecy of the place and close off the garden until such time that a particular person comes. I’ll probably take her here myself or she might be able find this place on her own when she’s older. I’m still looking for her but I’m close to finding her… I’m sure of it,” James said looking hopeful. He had a good feeling that the young man in front of him, proposing to buy his restaurant, had good intentions and would honor his wishes once he sold the property to him. He built the place a year after Julie ran away. He didn’t want it to be open to the public but he also wanted it to be maintained and to generate jobs for the locals in his area so he opened it for the public, but never promoted or advertised. He wanted the restaurant to be a beacon for Julie… A structure of hope that one day, Julie would find her way home. James told him the second condition and had it in writing as well, which was no problem for Adam. He agreed to his terms because he wasn’t looking into making it a money-making restaurant but to make it a second home for those away from theirs.

That’s why he built an inn around the restaurant. He wanted to give those tired poor souls seeking refuge the whole package until Cornelia comes home. Adam had kept his promise up to that day and he means to keep it that way in honor of its previous owner.

He just learned that Mr. Wilson or Mr. W to those close to him, had just passed and would be having a formal funeral service followed by the burial of the cremated remains to be done in Mr. W’s house. According to Mr. W’s loyal butler, Jim, his ashes would be buried beside his daughter’s – Julie – remains and his wife. They were a small family but a rich one in those parts. He hasn’t heard much of Mr. W over the past four years. He never came back after that first time they met. It was just one meeting, but they had a good long talk and he knew a part of Mr. W that made him respect him as a business owner and as a family man.

 

As he looks at this beautiful woman-child in front of him, he thinks back to what James told him – to open the backyard gardens when she finally came – and she did. She made a reservation with them from out of nowhere the night before and the moment his secretary told him a certain Cornelia Lewis has called, he immediately recognized the name and knew for sure that she is James’ granddaughter as was relayed to him by James himself when he purchased the property. He didn’t want to reveal right away what James’ request of him when he bought the place. James specifically told him not to confess to her unless he told him so but since he was gone, Adam was uncertain if he should tell her when she arrived. He decided against it when he learned that she was arriving that night and would wait until after the burial and tell her then. She deserved to have some time to get to know the place before he tells her that it was actually James’ property before. Also, he needs to tell her what the second part of the condition was. But he will tell her everything after they put James to rest.

She appears as if taken aback by his question but quickly recovers and smiles at him. “No, not really. It’s my first time here actually,” she replies in a small voice. She looked tired from her trip and Adam felt like an idiot for delaying her meal.

“Oh, I’m sorry, you must be hungry and tired. I’ll have your dinner made right away. What would you like?” he asks, nodding to the waiter to take down her order. “You can order anything, I promise, we’ll have it made for you,” he ads.

“Oh, thank you so much for being so accommodating then. I just want a salad please and pasta if you have any leftover. If you don’t have any, it’s fine. I don’t want to keep the cook and other staff to stay longer than what is necessary. I just didn’t know any other restaurants in the area…,” she blushes a little and feels embarrassed for being a bother to them.

“Please, Miss Lewis, you’re not keeping them here because most of them practically live nearby and the restaurant’s just closing.” He offers her a seat facing the backyard gardens.

Cornelia is still in awe of the grandness of the gardens beyond that of the restaurant and the inn as a whole. She wants to know the story of the place and why it’s called its name.

“Umm, I know you just met me and you’re probably on your way home to your family…,” she starts saying.

“I live by myself and my house is five minutes from here,” he responds right away. He feels that he wants to spend more time with her. He senses that she wants the same thing too but is just too shy to blurt it out. He doesn’t want to embarrass her either by waiting for her to say it herself so he sits on the chair across from hers and smiles. “I am not married and I don’t have a girlfriend as well and you don’t have to worry about me hitting on you because I know its not what you need right now – although I must say that I am very interested to know more about  you… in a friendly kind of way, I mean.” He starts scratching his head and gives her a look that’s basically asking her to shut him up so he won’t blunder on so much.

She chuckles instead; feeling more relaxed by the minute by merely talking to this man. “Okay, please stay with me a while if you can. I- I don’t want to be alone to appreciate this wonderful sight!” she turns her head around pertaining to the moonlight garden that extends as far as her eyes can see. “I mean, this is just… I actually don’t have the words for it…”

Adam looks at her innocent expression and marvels at how long he’s been waiting to look into someone’s eyes and actually see them for who they are. He’s lived so long in a world full of fake people, especially women he dated before – that he’s used to categorizing them into specific identities. There’s The I’m-not-looking-for-anything-serious-but-I-want-to-have-five-babies-with-you type, The You-don’t-have-enough-time-for-me type, The You-were-cute-when-we-first-met-but-now-you’re-boring-me type, and of course, The It’s-not-you-it’s-me type, and a bunch of more descriptions and titles he used to think about women before.

But Cornelia gives me a different vibe. She looks and emits a kind of sad but strong vibe that triggers the Superhero complex in most guys, and he is definitely one of those men. She looks to be as young as twenty, if not younger, and he just turned thirty-five that winter but he doesn’t look a day beyond twenty-five, as most people commented before. He has a rugged kind of handsomeness, like a Richard Gere kind of appeal and he wears it so well.

“This place has a story that most people who come here don’t know about. I don’t particularly share it outright but if they ask, I tell it as best as I could.” He turns towards the gardens as well and remembers how he made it grow.

There was just one garden when he bought it. It was right outside the backyard, beyond the open room where flowers of almost every kind were planted. He asked permission from James to expand the gardens and he was permitted to do so just as long as he keeps his end of the bargain. So Adam had his team of interior decorators and even a gardening and landscaping team to fix it up and expand the garden to plant more flowers, until it became as big as it is now. The inn itself is only around a thousand square meters, the garden is as big as the inn, and the rest is open grassland. He loves how it looks better now more than ever and he’s happy that she came just in time to see its grandness.

The food arrives but Adam refused her invitation to eat as well, claiming he’s already had his dinner that night, which he had with the staff a couple of hours earlier.

“Please tell me about this place… if that’s okay, that is,” she says shyly as she takes a sip of the water and a forkful of the salad greens.

“Of course, Miss Lewis,” he responds enthusiastically.

“Please call me Cornelia, instead. Its pretty tiring hearing my last name over and over,” she admits.

“Of course, Cornelia, but only if you call me Adam as well,” he replies, enjoying their friendly banter, which had started the first second they met.

She agrees and he proceeds to telling the story of the place.

“Well, it was a rather serendipitous event, me owning this place. I came here for a bite to eat one night, as suggested by a friend, and I thought out front that it was a crappy place to eat in but the smell of fresh flowers greeted me when I stepped inside. Then I went all the way inside and saw this wonderful sight. I mean, I was so awestruck that I had to make an offer to the original owner. I practiced law before but I wanted to start my own business. However, I wanted to start a project close to my heart first and see how that panned out before really getting into the restaurant business – which is what my family does in these parts. We acquire small restaurants, most of them bankrupt or neglected, and we work on it to build them into bigger and more competitive companies. We want to help the people here in our town and that’s how we make our living as well.” He looks inspired and motivated as he relays the story and Cornelia can’t help but admire the man and what he aims to accomplish.

“That’s a very noble and honorable cause, Adam. I wish more people like you existed in this world,” she tells him suddenly thinking about Morrison. She already misses him and she kept repeating their conversation in her head when they talked in her apartment earlier that day. She shook her head slightly and focused on what Adam was saying.

“And then I was lucky enough to get this place. I thought about expanding the inn but I think that it would defeat the purpose of this place being a small, secluded sanctuary for select people. Not many really know about this place. I’m surprised you found it actually.”

“Oh, I, ah, I was just browsing the internet and needed to go to a, um, a gathering near here. The name got me at first glance, really. Has it always been named Julie’s Labyrinth? And if so, would you happen to know why the original owner named it so?” she starts asking, feeling all the more curious about the place.

Adam resists the urge to tell her everything and resorts to being honest, “I don’t know the particular reason for the name but as the owner told me before, this place serves as a beacon for a person – or people – he interjects, who want to find hope and forgiveness. I guess he really thinks much of this place as a refuge rather than an establishment.”

Cornelia feels sad all of a sudden, remembering James and connecting to what Adam just said pertaining to people who are seeking refuge. She tries to fight her tears from spilling but a lone one escapes from her eye.

“A-are you okay, Cornelia? I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?” Adam quickly gets to his feet and offers a napkin.

She nods her head a couple of times and apologizes to him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bawl,” she smiles, dabbing her eyes. “I just remembered someone dear to me, that’s all, and I’m probably bone tired from my trip, is all.” She puts her fork down, having realized she’d gone through her food that quickly.

“You should take your rest, Cornelia.” Adam rises from his feet and assist her as she gets up from hers.

She starts reaching for her purse but he stops her. “No, its on the house. Please, I should take you to your room.”

“Please charge it to my room then if you don’t want me to pay for it now. I would it appreciate it if you do that instead, Adam.” She looks serious on that one that Adam just had to nod.

She agrees for him to take her to her room and thanks him for a wonderful evening.

“Thank you for taking time out of your night to chat with me. I’m sure I was boring you as hell but you sat there like a pro and endured it,” she says jokingly, trying to make light of their conversation as what he did cheering her up earlier.

“Oh, please… You call that boring? Hah! You should sit through the town meetings one of these days.” They both laugh. “But seriously, I do hope you take advantage of the garden while you’re here and let me know whatever you need. I’m here for you,” he says in a way that she feels he really meant it and was not just saying it because she was a guest there but pertaining to her particularly.

She thanks him again and finally closes her door. He probably tells his guests that he was there for them all the time. Besides, it’s what good owners of businesses do, they assure their customers, she tells herself as she gets out of her clothes and takes a short shower.

It’s going to be a different day tomorrow. I’m scared of waking up…

 


 

Chapter III

 

As Morrison drives home to his empty apartment, he’s deep in thought and hurting like hell. The sting he feels from Cornelia’s rejection is very unexpected and surprising for him. Yes, he knows that he has grown to care and love her over the past weeks but he didn’t expect it to hurt so much when she was the one who didn’t want him.

“What the fuck did you do, you idiot!” he exclaims to himself, banging the steering wheel hard. “God! What were you thinking! Damn it!” he keeps on berating himself but knows that it’s not doing him any good, cursing and throwing a childish tantrum over losing her when he could be thinking of ways on getting her back.

He takes a deep breath and pulls over for a minute. He closes his eyes and leans his head back on the driver’s seat. “How could I be so daft to think that she’d be ready to take me back after I crushed her heart the night before?” he whispers.

He remembers her face when he told him that he didn’t want her to be around him anymore and making it look like it was her fault that they were in that situation when deep inside, he was just doing what James had asked of him and what he thought was the right thing to do… to keep her safe… He doubted her strength in overcoming the odds with him, and because of that, he lost her.

He honestly doesn’t know where to start in trying to get her back. Of course she’s devastated with James’ death since he was the closest person to her, more like her only family. He doesn’t want to push his luck by forcing her to talk to him in the funeral. He asked Kevin the details and was told that it would be held in James’ home in Buffalo, New York. He has the address and would be there by tomorrow. He’s sure that she would be there too but she’d probably arrive early. He plans to catch her and possibly talk to her before the cremation ceremony but again, he didn’t want her to hate him even more.

He’ll respect her grief and let her be this time. She deserves it and she needs it.

He is deeply saddened by James’ passing as well. Even if he knew him only for a very short span of time, he knows that James was a stand-up guy and had Cornelia’s best interest at heart. He only wishes that he could have known the man some more and shared more talks with him. But he wouldn’t have that chance anymore, just like Cornelia wouldn’t have a chance to see the man who took care of her anymore, at least in this lifetime.

He takes a deep breath and continues driving back to his apartment. There wouldn’t be anything much he could do now but to wait for Cornelia’s anger towards him to abate and once she had dealt with her grief. He doesn’t exactly know the timeline for those two things but he is willing to wait no matter how long it will be.

His phone rang at that moment and Linda’s voice comes on. “Son, how are you? Are you coming home?” she asks.

Morrison sighs and answers her truthfully. “I’m actually driving home to my apartment mom. Is there something I could help you with?” His tired voice can clearly be heard and his mother didn’t miss a beat.

“I’m sorry about what happened to your, ah, girlfriend… I heard from your father. I was so worried about you, son. I want to see you. Can you pop over here tomorrow perhaps? I need to talk to you,” she asks hoping he would agree.

“I’m sorry mother. I need to be somewhere tomorrow. Maybe on the weekend perhaps? And you don’t have to worry, we’re okay now,” he answers back.

“Oh… I see. Okay, I’ll wait ‘till the weekend then. Are you sure you’re okay?” she asks again.

“Yes, mother. Just tired, I guess. I just really want to get home and get a shut eye. It’s been a long day…”

“All right. I won’t keep you then. Please stay safe. Talk to you soon, son. I love you,” was her concerned reply.

“Okay, mother. I love you too. Take care.” And with that, Morrison tries to drive home as fast as he could so he could make arrangements for James’ funeral the next day.

 

As Linda looks down on her phone after her phone call with her son, she feels dread creep all over her body once again. She wanted her son to be with her, safe in their house, close where she could reach out to him all the time.

She recalls where all of this happened. It was because of a beautiful woman and her jealous heart.

 

Linda heard that Nick spent the night at a certain Gia de Grassi’s hotel room and she went off the roof. She found out more about the heiress and decided to take her revenge on them.

Nick was having an affair again and as she always did before, she won’t have any of it. She’s had to scrape off those women who clung around her husband and she didn’t have any problems doing it then so nothing would stop her from doing it again now.

But she underestimated the pretty  young heiress. Linda flew out to Paris while Nick was still there. She intended to surprise him so he won’t have any reasons to go out with his business partners without her. He won’t need to spend another night in another woman’s arms.

Oh Nick! You bastard! Why do you always do this to me?! She screamed in her head as her plane landed on the tarmac of the airport. She went straight to the hotel where Nick was staying but she covertly got a different room on the same floor as his. She intended to spy on them first before making herself known. She needed to know more about the woman and find her weakness before using it against her.

 

Right at that very moment, Gia looks at the fish tank, or more of an oversized aquarium placed in her hotel room. She loves the water and she loves having aquariums near her when she sleeps. It’s one of her unusual requests whenever she travels to other places apart from her home in Paris and as well as Tuscany.

She reaches for the decanter and pours herself a glass.

“Dov’è lui adesso?” she asks where Nick is at the moment from the man right across from her. She speaks with a rhythmic tone, one that is pleasing to the ears, not so rough that it makes one cringe, but it makes you think of graceful dancing whenever she speaks… like her tongue smoothly glides in her palate making pleasant sounds come out of her mouth. She talks like an angel but there’s something far from angelic in her mind.

She can speak perfect Italian, given it’s her mother tongue, but she can also speak English like it’s her native language. Other languages she has mastered include French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Mandarin, and she’s currently learning Latin. She is one force to be reckoned with and she knows it. She makes sure everybody does as well.

The man in front of her flinches but responds bravely in English, since he knows that she can understand and speak perfect English.

 

Mike Leigh worked in construction before and had a wonderful family and a beautiful wife… But circumstances turned on him and learned that his wife was seriously sick and he couldn’t get any help from his employers or friends. Then one day, Gia de Grassi appeared from out of nowhere while he was slumped on a hospital chair in the City General hospital in New Jersey. She hired him on the spot, offering a stable job as her bodyguard and other stuff she needed done. Or so he thought. After a while, she made him do other stuff that were already illegal like detaining people against their will, extorting information from people using brute force and intimidation, and even killing her enemies.

He didn’t complain, just as long as she provides him the means to keep his wife, Mary, alive, he would do anything she asks. His loyalty lies in whoever was keeping him and his wife alive.

After he failed to retrieve the documents last night, he contacted some people he knew to somehow find out where the girl and her companions went. He found out that they were in a secured location in a mansion owned by a rich guy. He still has to see if he can do something about getting those papers back somehow but right now, he had to pacify his employer, something that was very hard to do. Once Gia de Grassi puts her mind into doing something, she never stops until she gets what she’s after. And right now, she’s after the McElroy family.

 

“He is still in his office in Manhattan, trying to decipher the document…” he starts.

“That you failed to retrieve! When I talked to you over the phone when you were there, you sounded as if you are sure you will get what I was asking. But now, you come up empty-handed and your tail behind your back! She was just one girl! And Nick’s seemingly incompetent son doesn’t look like he was being incompetent at all. You let them get away and now, I face exposure as the one who orchestrated all of this!” she stands, hurling her glass across the room, just missing his head by mere inches. He didn’t move though, even if he might get hit, because he knows he made a mistake in underestimating the McElroy heir. “Dannazione!” she shouts.

“Madam… I am sorry about the… about what happened but I will make it right! I’ll get that document and I’ll make that McElroy boy pay for messing up the operation!” he replies with gusto.

She glances at him with a bored expression on her face. “And what do you suppose to do with that document once you get it? They have already combed through it by now! That is already beyond doing because those details would lead them back to me! Capisci? You can’t get those files back because they’re useless now. What we need to do is make sure that the trail stops there, at that document.” She starts pacing again with her eyes trained on the fish tank. She thinks better when she keeps her eyes on the fluid motions of the fish in her tank.

He might think it’s just a random coincidence… but if he were still the Nick McElroy I came to know all those years ago, he would surely think there was something in that name, she thought to herself.

“I came here to get his head on a steak; along with that woman he calls his wife. I will do whatever it takes! I’ve started with that girl to get to his son and I won’t stop there. That poor bella donna was just a casualty of this war I have waged against that despicable family!” She turns her murderous stare at her American hired goon slash bodyguard. He, basically, does anything she tells him because she gives him all the cash he needs and wants to keep his wife alive… that is as long as he does what he is supposed to do.

She’s not very fond of him at that moment so she sends him away and focuses on what else she could do to inflict the most harm to the family who caused her downfall.

 

Gia de Grassi grew up in a very traditional Italian family who has deep roots in arts and culture. They are believed to be direct descendants of the once famous Giovannino de’ Grassi who had a famous sketchbook found in 1395 that contained a large number of drawings of animals. It was found in his workshop when he was a court artist.

The de Grassi family started out as a family of artists, producing paintings and sculptures all across Italy and then to France. But their place of origin was Tuscany and they still had lots of lands in those parts. The earlier de Grassi’s then started getting into the fishing business and built ships for the shipping companies in Italy until they, too, had their very own in the 1800’s. It was a glorious time for the family and their family members grew every year, producing sons who toiled the land and worked on the family business, and daughters, who had good heads on their shoulders.

Hector de Grassi, Gia’s father, rose into greatness in the early 1960’s being able to raise the company business into new heights by branching out to other countries and to the U.S. Many businesses then were apprehensive in doing so because of the turmoil in the war but Hector, himself being a soldier, faced the odds and came out victorious. He acquired many small scale companies and combined those that can be put together, creating more jobs in his town and increasing his profits.

When Hector met the love of his life, Olivia, he married her at her early age of eighteen while he was already approaching his fifties. He always said to his daughter that he married in that age because that was when he met the one person whom he couldn’t live without.

“It just so happened that she came very late in life,” he used to say to Gia when she was younger and she always giggled afterwards, teasing him that he was just picky about girls.

The couple had five children, Gia, being the youngest, and the only girl. She was spoiled because she was the only girl in the house except for her mother. They adored her as a child and she was their little princess. She had a thirst for knowledge and was interested in playing music and different musical instruments. Her favorite would be the piano, which Hector, himself, taught her how to play. It was their special time together and it brought them even closer to each other. Olivia sometimes teased them that they always went off somewhere by themselves and never included her. They’d tease back that she was just not up to the challenge of their activities.

They had a wonderful family and they were very happy when they were younger. But then, tragedy struck…

She was fifteen years old, just learning how to drive, and of course, her father was her teacher. They’ve been driving around their house for weeks and now, Gia, wanted to venture out some more. So they went out of the property and into the main road. Then Gia got curios about a bend in the road and took the road less travelled by people. Her father said it was fine just as long as she took it easy and slow. She’s driving the family car, it was an old BMW but it was her favorite car amongst the dozens in their parking lot. Their house in Tuscany was her favorite too. They were there for their summer vacation but they usually stayed in the city, where Hector could work and manage his companies. Even having achieved great success over the past decade, Hector remained grounded with his family and always put them first. He enjoyed going on trips with them to different countries and cities in Italy and France, but his favorite thing to do was to spend time with his princess, Gia.

Gia didn’t exactly know what happened. One minute she was driving relatively smoothly against the rough terrain then the car pitched to the side, hitting a big rock then in her panic, she stepped on the accelerator instead of the brakes. The old car pitched forward and they drove aimlessly for about a minute with Gia screaming her head off and Hector trying to take control of the wheel. He tried stepping on the brakes but it must have jammed because the car wasn’t stopping. They could feel jagged rocks hit the underside of the car and one huge rock ripped through and jutted up from underneath.

The trees battered the car from all sides as they went off the road. Gia screamed some more as Hector tried to gain control of the vehicle. He kept telling Gia to calm down and to hold on as the car continued forward.

Hector was afraid that they would run out of road and fall to the ravine but thankfully, there were many huge trees around so he only had to find one that he could use to stop the car with. Of course, that would mean ramming the car into it so it has to be a tree that could stop the car entirely and do the least damage to them. He spotted an old cypress tree that was not that big and not that high. He made some quick calculations in his head and thought it would be enough to do the job.

“Preparati, Gia. Ho intenzione di mandare in crash la macchina in quell’albero. Resisti,” he told his daughter who had a look of pure fear on her face. He just told her that he would crash the car into the tree ahead, and to hold on. She was still trying to process what he said while keeping a sane mind.

“Che cosa?” ‘What?’ she asked incredulously, looking from side to side for fear that her door might bust open and she’ll fall off the car to her death at the jagged rocks and pointed branches on the path they were driving into.

After only a minute, Hector let go of his grip on the steering wheel and covered Gia with his body as the impact of the crash hit them.

“Papa! Cosa dovrei fare?!” she shouted at her father in a high-pitched voice, asking him what she should do. “Papa? Papa?” she repeated as she looked about her for a way out of the mangled car. She unhooked her seatbelt and unlocked her car door.

The car had smoke coming out of its hood, which was bent in half. The whole front of the car was totaled and looked like it was beyond repair. She could smell gasoline and panicked for the car might explode. She rushed to her father’s door and tried yanking it open. It had a huge dent on its side which made it hard to open. She decided to break the glass and get her dad out that way. There was a rock about the size of her fist lying on the ground next to her. She took it and broke the glass without wasting another minute. The smoke was getting worse and one side of the hood had already caught fire when she cleared the window of the broken glasses.

She is five-foot-eight and was active in sports, not to mention, a very big fan of running. Hector wasn’t a big man himself and at his age, it wasn’t that hard for Gia to lift him off his seat.

She lifted her father, first by his arms. Once she got both arms out of the window, she heaved him up with one big pull and got him hanging by the waist over the window of the passenger door. It was easier to drag the rest of his body out of the car and drag him away from the smoking car.

Gia begun tugging on to his father’s shirt as they lay on the ground. “Papa? Per Favor! Papa!” she screamed, looking around frantically for help.

But they were in a less travelled road, deep in the woods, so no other cars were nearby.

Mi dispiace Papa! Per Favor svegliati! Per Favor!” she was saying she was sorry and begged her father to wake up. “Aiuto!” she screamed for help to the tops of her lungs but no one seemed to hear her. She can’t even hear any vehicles passing by. She felt helpless and fearful for her father.

Then Hector coughed once and then twice.

Papa? Papa? Stai bene?” she asked if he was okay and he grunted in response. She could see that he was in pain and there was blood oozing from the side of his body.

“Quello che è successo?” ‘What happened?’ he asked.

She tried to explain what occurred but Hector stopped her by reaching out to her face and caressing her face.

“Gia…,” he said weakly.

“Si Papa?” she answered, trying very hard to stay calm for her father until help comes.

“Ti amo e io sono così orgogliosa di te,” ‘I love you and I’m so proud of you’ were his last words as Hector de Grassi finally looked up at the sky and rested his eyes.

“Papa! Papa! Svegliati, Papa!” she shouted several times, trying to wake him up but she knows in her the recesses of her reasoning, which was not evident at that time, that her father had left her.

She became all the more hysterical as a car passed by and stopped. It was all a blur after that for Gia. All she could remember was her clutching her father’s body, shaking him to wakefulness and tears streaming down her face. There was an explosion as the car finally erupted into flames. Gia saw darkness for a few weeks as she went into a comma.

She recovered after staying for a month in the hospital then continued her recovery and physical therapy sessions at their house in Tuscany. She didn’t want to go back to Paris just yet. She wanted to stay where she last saw her father. Her mother was very worried for her child but she respected her wishes and left her alone most of the time. It was a difficult time for Gia. She had to accept the fact that her favorite person in the world had passed on and that it was all her fault. That was the biggest struggle she had to go through over the course of her teenage years. Even as she went to College in the states, Stanford, her heart was still laden with guilt over the loss of her father all those years ago.

But luckily, she found refuge in the arts and in business. She took up Business Management in College, not only because it was expected of her since she would have to run her father’s company in the next few years, but also because it gave her joy sharing a passion that her father once had. It was the most redeeming thing that she ever thought of doing to make up for her stupidity and carelessness that caused her father’s passing. She vowed to herself that she would continue what her father started and would fight tooth and nail for what he built. Her mother passed away ten years after her father did and that was the time that she met Nick McElroy…

She was a beautiful, successful, and spirited twenty-five-year-old owner of a huge company in Europe and she wanted to expand overseas as well. The de Grassi Shipping Line was already a big name and a successful venture but she wanted to try other things in other places. That was why she went to the convention in Paris to meet with prospective business owners that she could invest in. And she met one particular handsome business owner in that gathering.

Nick McElroy went there assuming that he would not get anything substantial in that convention but was still worth  his while so he decided to go still. Back in the states, he’s still looking for his long lost daughter who seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth after her mother, Julie, died. It baffled him that no one could tell him or his investigators where the little child went to. He managed to confess to Linda the truth about Julie and their child and she was surprisingly very forgiving for what he had done to her.

“Oh, Nick. That was many years ago. I, for one, don’t hold on to grudges and if I chastise you now for your indiscretion, that happened years ago, I wouldn’t be a good wife and partner for you, now would I? And that poor child. Good heavens… Where could she possibly be? I’ll be fine if you found her and brought her home with you. She’s just a child. Poor darling…,” was her response and he found it very mature and fitting for her tender soul. He’s not always fond of her, especially since their marriage was done for convenience and good business relations.

But over the years that they spent with each other, she’s grown to accept his flaws and became the best mother to their adopted son Morrison. She can’t bear children herself because of a complication in her internal organs but they did try during their first year together, then finally giving up and deciding to adopt instead. They were very lucky to have found and adopted Morrison after five years of being childless. He was just a baby then but he was a gift from heaven that glued Nick and Linda together until that day.

“Are you not going to scream or ask for a divorce or anything…,” he asked incredulously.

“No. I don’t want to waste time arguing about the past, Nick.” She then walked away and went on with her day as if he didn’t drop a bomb on her.

From that day on, they forgot about the whole affair and she, basically, just let him search for his lost daughter all he wanted, even asking for any update on his search from time to time. Nick came to appreciate her even more after that.

He went to the convention just to get his mind off things and to look for potential partners in Europe, in particular, since his firm was then in trouble of filling bankruptcy because of bad deals and a plunge in the stock market that affected most of the investments his firm made in the past months. He owned fifty-one percent of McElroy and Burns, and he was planning to buy out his partner, but he thought better of it and just let his old pal stay on as his managing partner. He did want to get into the financial side of things as well and maybe open up a bank or a small credit union since his father opened up his own, about twenty years ago. It was still open but was not doing well enough to stay open. He planned to restore it so he had his eyes trained on a potential business partner for his restoration of Missions Bank.

And he did find it in the guise of one beguiling lady named Gia de Grassi. She moved with grace and elegance across the room as she went to the bar to get a drink. Nick couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the young beauty and even if he was obviously much older than her, he decided to approach her and throw caution to the wind. Besides, it was cold and he needed to have someone to talk to in that lonely convention.

“Hello mademoiselle. How are you this fine evening?” he started while ordering his own drink from the bar tender.

Gia was not surprised that the guy from across the room – the one who had his eyes on her – finally approached her. She’s been eyeing him as well and she was glad he looked at her direction at last. He looked years her senior but she didn’t care. She liked how he looked, all mysterious and his brooding stare got her right away. She wanted this guy and she smiled secretly as she feigned being surprised by his sudden appearance.

“Oh, ciao. Ti conosco?” she asked, not knowing if he understood Italian or even spoke it.

“Ah… haha,” he chuckled lightly. “I’m sorry but I do not speak Italian that well. Solo un po…” He said telling her that he can speak just a little bit of Italian. He liked how her voice sounded. It was like silk being pressed to his cheeks. It had a sexy ring to it.

“I see,” she answered with a neutral accent. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked, repeating her question in English this time.

“Oh, no. I am attending this convention as well but I’m from the states. It’s my first time here I’m afraid and I don’t know anyone around here, to be frank. I’m just a lost sheep here…” he chuckled and combed his hair with his fingers, tousling it a bit to make himself look a little more boyish.

She looked to be in her twenties and he’s already in his fifties but he didn’t care. He needed to talk to that enchanting creature and she, obviously, wasn’t offended by him coming over.

She smiled and took a sip from her champagne. “Oh, in that case, let me show you around this beautiful city then. I’d hate for you to miss out on the best things we can offer here in Paris.”

Nick’s heart gave a leap as he outstretched his arm and said, “I’m glad that you’re willing to show me around. May I know your name?” She took his arm and they walked towards the terrace. It was chilly so Nick took off his jacket and wrapped it around her bare shoulders. She was tall for her age and mature-looking. She had on a long blue gown made of silk and it fit her slim body like a glove. How he longed to wrap her in his arms and taste her lips. He shook himself from his daydream and focused on what she was saying.

“Gia… Gia de Grassi,” she said as she stretched out her arm to shake his.

He took her hand and planted a kiss on the back of it and replied, “Nick. Nick McElroy. So very pleased to meet you, lovely Gia de Grassi.” He smiled and gently let go of her hand as she smiled her mysterious smile.

They talked for the rest of the night, getting to know each other better and flirting with one another. Nick was very open about him being married and having a son but Gia didn’t care. She wanted to be with him that night and not only in that convention. She also wanted to be with him for more than that night and she planned to keep him busy with their intended tour around the city in the next few days.

And she did, starting that night… They went home together at his hotel room and spent the night in each other’s arms. Nick felt guilty in sleeping with Gia but he also felt alive again, after a very long time.

They went to all the places that were popular in Paris, of course, they don’t display their affection to each other in public because they both have a reputation to uphold. Him, being a married man, and she, a well-bred socialite. So they kept their intimacies in the bedroom but their daily tryst did not escape the eyes of Linda’s spies.

After hearing about what Nick was doing in Paris aside from the convention, Linda flew out and booked herself a room in the same hotel where the two lovebirds were staying.

She booked herself under a different name so Nick wouldn’t find out, and she made sure she wasn’t seen or recognized by anyone, especially Nick and his lady friend.

Linda arrived in Paris and immediately went to the hotel. Having talked to her contact there before landing, she found out that the two lovebirds were scheduled to go to the Louvre that day with the girl wanting to show Nick the art and culture of Paris.

“I’m sure she wants to show him more than the arts of her country! That slut!” she hissed to herself as she dropped her expensive bag on the sofa inside her hotel room. She tipped the bellhop and went to change her clothes. She was going to follow the two and she even wore a disguise so they won’t notice her arrival. She was a natural blonde with shoulder-length hair but she wore a wig of long black hair and covered herself with a long brown coat since it was freezing outside.

She arrived at the Louvre five minutes after they opened and went in right away. Nick and his friend were going to arrive in a few minutes and Linda wanted to have a nice position where she could observe them uninterruptedly. While waiting, she went around the paintings of the Renaissance era and called her private investigator.

“Tell me about this girl. Everything,” she spoke into the receiver and listened intently to what the man on the other line had to say.

She found out about Gia’s past and present status. The girl was an heiress to a big corporation, apparently, and was looking into expanding her business to the US. So Nick was the perfect target. Linda had no qualms about Nick having business partners who were women, especially if they had the money to begin with, but she certainly didn’t want them sleeping with her husband.

When Nick and Gia entered the threshold, Linda was taken aback by Gia’s beauty and body.

No wonder Nick is enthralled by her…, she thought, feeling even more hurt for her husband’s betrayal. She already forgave him for his past indescretions – and she certainly had her revenge there – but here was another one and this one might be hard to beat since this girl is no simpleton and she had the money and power to protect herself. Linda had to think of another way to pry that girl away from her husband and she had to think fast.

Linda surprised Nick in his hotel room later that night and Nick was obviously very surprised and a little anxious.

“Hi Nick!” Linda said excitedly as she went into his hotel room after he opened his door.

“L-Linda? Wh-what are you doing here?” What the fuck is she doing here? Shit! I have to meet with Gia in an hour. How do I deal with her now that Linda’s here? Fuck! I have to cancel on Gia…, he thought as he hugged his wife. Linda had probably gone to the hairdressers because she had a new haircut and her make-up was impeccable, as always.

“I wanted to be with you. It’s been lonely since you were gone. You know Morrison, always running around and never wanting to stay at home for long so I got bored… Why? Aren’t you happy to see me?” she asked, pretending to look a little hurt.

“No… No, no. Of course, I’m happy to see you darling. I was just surprised, that’s all. How was your trip?” Nick took her jacket off and offered her a seat on the sofa. He went to the bar and fixed them both drinks. He badly needed one. He was sweating unnaturally even in the cold weather.

“Are you okay Nick? It seems like you’re thinking about something serious… How was your convention? Any possible prospects yet?” Linda asked looking concerned. Yes, sweat all you can, you bastard! You’re about to get a taste of your own medicine! She thought while she took another sip of her wine.

Nothing. I w-was actually thinking about a client who might be interested in investing in Missions Bank. I am actually supposed to meet with her in an hour but I can definitely cancel or have it moved to a later time since you’re here.”

“Oh, no, please don’t do that, Nick. We want to have investors and I don’t want to interrupt your future dealings with her… As a matter of fact, why don’t I come and meet her too. Maybe with a woman present, she’ll trust you even more and with my skills in arranging things between deals, I’m sure we’ll be able to snag this fish for our future venture with Missions Bank, don’t you think?” she looked excited with the thought. Nick couldn’t disagree with her then because she would certainly thin that something was up if he refused.

Nick remained silent for a few seconds and then finally conceding to her idea. “I think that’s a good idea Linda! But let me give her a heads up so she won’t be totally surprised. If you don’t mind, I’d like to call her. Excuse me a minute.”

“Of course darling. Take all the time you need,” Linda smiled up to him.

Nick called Gia and explained that his wife was there and wanted to go with them on their “supposed” meeting.

Gia took it all in stride and agreed to their lunch date with Linda. She was curious about the wife as well and what better way to meet her rival, than to have a meal with her.

Gia replaced the phone on the receiver and smiled to herself. Hmm… So the wife finally arrived to make herself known. Well, let’s see about that.

Gia had fallen in love with the middle-aged handsome fella she saw at the convention and who had shared her bed for many nights since. She intended to snatch him away from his wife and make him stay with her in Paris. She’s been looking for someone like him for a very long time. She’s had lousy lovers and even worse partners in the past that she nearly gave up finding the right guy for her. She admits that she has a hard time opening herself up fully to her partners but she was just being cautious.

But it was different with Nick. Even at first sight, she was drawn to him even before he saw her walk across the room, which she purposely did just to get his attention. It was going very well until his wife decided to show up all of a sudden.

“Well, I guess I would have to see what I’m up against then…,” she said to herself, already readying herself for the upcoming luncheon with the infamous wife.

Nick and Linda arrived at the said fancy restaurant in the middle of the city’s social district. Linda’s been there many times before and she actually spent one whole summer there when she was in College so she was familiar with the sights.

“You haven’t been here before, right?” she asked her husband.

“Yeah, it’s my first time here. I’ve been to other parts of Europe but not Paris,” he answered.

“Have you gotten the chance to see the sights? I could take you to the more popular ones here if you want. We could go to the Louvre and look at the magnificent art stored there. What do you say? Say, after this lunch? Are you going to be doing anything today?” she asked nonchalantly, pretending that she didn’t follow him yesterday with his newest conquest and watched them stare and chat away.

She remembered the sting of seeing her husband enjoy being in the arms of another woman. It’s been a while since they went somewhere together. The last time they went away for a vacation with just the two of them was when Julie died in that car crash and she needed to distract him from finding out right away. While they were in his yacht, sailing across the pacific for a month, she secretly had her investigators and other influential people under her control do what she asked them to do. A policeman who owed her money manipulated the reports and connived with a judge to keep the records sealed and to change the child’s name so Nick wouldn’t find out where she was sent to. She wasn’t a mean person, but she would do anything to keep her family intact, even sending an innocent girl to one of the worst orphanages in New Jersey. She found out that the girl ran away, just a month ago, after spending six years in that orphanage. Good riddance, was all she thought. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about her being found in that hell hole. She’s on her own now and Nick would have a harder time looking for her.

Uhm… No, I haven’t been around yet. Haven’t had time to do so… I had some client meetings and stuff so I never got around to some sightseeing. Yeah, that’s a good idea. I can free up my time tomorrow so we could go there.” Shit! I had a scheduled trip with Gia tomorrow to Nice but I guess I’d have to cancel that and everything else… I wonder if Linda knows… Maybe that’s why she came over here all of a sudden. But who would have told her?

Nick? Nick? Can you hear me?” Linda was waving her arms in front of his face to get his attention.

“Huh?” he replied, looking confused.

“You zoned out for a minute there. I said, we could go to the Louvre in the morning and then stroll the streets in the afternoon then to a nice restaurant in Rue de Bucci or perhaps Rue du Montparnasse for desert. Personally, I like the restaurants near the Louvre since we’re already there. I’ll arrange everything, don’t worry about it,” she finished saying.

Nick had not heard everything she said because he was deep in thought about what the hell he was going to do with Gia. She’s a lovely girl, that she was, but he’s not about to compromise his marriage and partnership with Linda because of her, no matter how she makes him feel alive and human when they’re together. He still had to think about his reputation and what he and Linda have built throughout the years.

He would have to take Gia aside once they had their lunch and break off their affair. Yes, that’s the only solution to the mess he, himself, had created.

“Oh, I think it’s time for our meeting with your lovely client. Where is your Italian client, by the way?” Linda said, looking up at the crowd to see if Gia had arrived and fixed her dress. She prepared herself for that meeting when she was back at the hotel. She would make sure that little miss Italian bitch would never bother Nick or her again.

“I never told you she was Italian… Linda, did you really come here because you had nothing to do in the states or have you come here to spy on me?” Nick asked pointedly. He knew there was something fishy with why Linda had raced over there with no notice whatsoever that she was coming.

Linda looked at him with a blank expression and said sweetly, “Whatever are you saying, Nick? Of course I assumed she was either French or Italian because were in Europe but I leaned more on her being Italian because I liked them better. Is that a crime? Am I wrong then? Is she French?”

Nick seemed to consider her answer and then answered in a  resigned tone, “She is Italian, I believe. She’s the daughter of one of the richest Italian families in Europe and I was lucky enough to bump into her at the convention and she told me that she would consider going into a partnership with me. That is if she likes what I have to offer,” he answered, looking around anxiously. Where is she? Is she going to show up? I hope she just ditches me and don’t show up altogether. It would be easier that way…

As soon as the thought came to him, she appeared in a regal dress of red at the restaurant’s entryway and drew in lots of oohs and ahhs from the people inside. She was indeed stunning and Nick couldn’t help but stare at her beauty and body. He longed to hold her again but squashed the feeling as quickly as it came. He had to keep his mind focused on convincing Linda that there was nothing going on between them and possibly get out of that restaurant unscathed.

She does look beautiful and more so in person. No wonder this blundering idiot is in love with her. But no, he can never be in love with someone else. He’s mine and he’s going to continue to be mine until I say so.

“Oh my, you are a pretty little thing,” Linda started as Gia came to their table. “Linda McElroy, nice to meet you.”

Gia looked at the wife of the man she was quickly falling in love with and felt envious of her all of a sudden. She quickly did her research before going there and found out that Linda is a force to be reckoned with and might not be so easy to deal with. She’s certainly a classic and elegant-looking lady, oozing with confidence and regal air. Her envy quickly turned into admiration and can’t help but like the lady.

“Ciao! Pleased to meet you. I am Gia. Gia de Grassi. I’m sorry, did I take long?” she asked innocently, smiling at Nick and taking her seat.

“Oh no, it’s fine. We just arrived a few minutes ago. Should we order?” Linda asked, acting all amiable and friendly when inside, she was fuming.

Nick was all sorts of uncomfortable for the two ladies to come together like that but he supposed it cannot be helped. And it’s better that way since he didn’t have to sneak around to meet Gia. But he had to talk to her privately to tell her that he’s breaking off their affair. It would have to wait until Linda goes to the ladies room or something.

They ordered and talked some more. Gia told Linda all about her family and their home in Tuscany and Linda showed great enthusiasm in listening to the Italian beauty. The talk, surprisingly, centered on the development of Missions Bank. Nick had talked to Gia about it and she seemed genuinely interested before but they never really got into the details because they were too busy with each other. But with Linda there, they were able to talk about the problems and advantages of the small bank.

At the end of their lunch, Gia and Linda had basically became best friends and were talking about setting up another lunch date or even diner date in the next few days. Linda volunteered to look up the paperwork on what they needed to do to get the ball rolling in the investment. Gia gave her full support and promised to send her lawyer to Linda so they could discuss the matter further.

“I’m sorry if I couldn’t be the one to talk to you about the technicalities of my investment. My lawyer would be best suited for this, I suppose,” Gia said explaining further that she doesn’t really get into the mix of her investments but fully trusts her employees to do what was best with her money.

That’s where your downfall would be. I wouldn’t be laughing and flirting this openly to my husband once I get through with you. “Oh, yes, of course, and I’m sure they know what they are doing. I’ll be glad to talk to your lawyer then. I don’t normally take care of these as well since I let my husband do the talking but I do have a lot of experience in this, having taken care of my father’s estate and businesses as well. I’m so excited to get this started. Are you going to go back home or do you have somewhere else to go?” Linda asked.

“Ahm… Not really but I wanted to do some shopping around a bit. Why do you ask?” Gia was curious why Linda was so friendly. Did she not notice anything between her and Nick? Or was she that good in pretending that Gia, herself, was convinced that she wasn’t having an affair with Nick?

“Oh, I see. I wanted to invite you to the Louvre, which I am sure you have seen plenty of times, but I was going to take Nick there this afternoon for a little bit of sight-seeing. Would you care to join us? He hasn’t been around the city yet and I wanted to show him around since I am quite familiar with the place,” Linda said with her sweet voice.

Gia almost laughed at what Linda said because she was taken Nick to most of the spots in the city over the last couple of days since they met. She curbed her urge to smirk and graciously declined using her shopping excuse.

“Oh well, next time maybe. Now, if you both would excuse me, I need to use the ladies room.” Linda stood up and walked towards the restroom.

“What the hell are you doing?” Nick immediately whispered into Gia’s ear the moment Linda was out of sight. “How could you agree to the investment? Don’t you see that it’s her plan all along? I have a feeling that she knows everything and is just using this meeting as a way to get to you and me. Can’t you see that?” he hissed.

Gia looked cool and composed as she answered him, “Of course I know that, Nick but being a woman myself, I understand what she’s trying to do. She wants to keep her enemies close to her. And I really want to invest in your bank. Don’t you want me to?” Gia came closer and brushed the lapels of his shirt.

He quickly grabbed her hand and drew it away from him. “Don’t. Not here. She might see. Please, Gia. I’m telling you, back away from this deal now. Of course I want an investor but this might just mess it up for the both of us. And… I – I can’t continue with this affair any longer… I’m sorry. I have to go back in a few days to the New York anyway so there’s no point in continuing this until then. I’m assuming Linda will be with me for the remainder of my stay here so it is best to end it right now before we stir up some more trouble in our own families,” Nick said in an apologetic tone.

He didn’t mean to drag the young beautiful heiress into his mess. He was just too selfish to contain his attraction of her that he allowed himself to give in to the pleasure of her company even though he fully knew that it wasn’t going to be a serious relationship, but just a momentary fling while he was abroad.

Gia was shocked at what he said. All the while, she thought that she would finally get into a serious relationship. Nick was the perfect guy. The only one who finally fit the bill of her ideal man. All this time, she thought that he went through with their lunch even though his wife was there was because he wanted her to continue seeing him even if his wife was there. But in truth, he just wanted to say goodbye and rub it in her face that he chose his wife over her.

“Wh-what are you talking about, Nick? I don’t understand,” she asked looking hurt and confused by what he said.

Nick scooted closer to her and held her hand, “Look, Gia. You’re a beautiful young lady who has everything going for her. Don’t lock yourself away from other people and don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve. You deserve someone who will take care of you all the time and who will never leave for another. I want you to have a life with a meaning and not just someone who totes around a married man like me. You’re better than that. Please… Let’s part ways now that it’s still early. I… I can never be that man for you, Gia. I am married and I’m going to remain married until the day I die. I love my wife. I love my family… I’m sorry to have to drag you into this… I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I- I’m just one selfish bastard! And you should get as far away from me as possible because I will only ruin your life.” He let go of her hand and moved back to his seat.

Gia stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief. “What the hell are you talking about? I’m a big girl and I don’t need anyone to tell me what I want or don’t want in this life. And I want you in my life, Nick! More than anything… I want to keep going. You don’t have to make promises… Only your time. I know what I’m doing, please… Don’t do this… Don’t you feel the same way towards me? She can never give you what I can offer, Nick. I’ll stick with you even if you are still married. I’m not hoping for anything more. I just want your time,” she pleaded. She felt tears coming on but she tried to suppress them. It was like saying goodbye to her father all over again.

That gut-wrenching feeling that she felt when her father passed away in her arms was like the same thing she felt as she saw Nick shake his head and disagree with her.

“No, Gia. I can’t do that to you. You deserve so much more than a scumbag like me. I need you to continue with your life here and not think of me, of us, anymore. I can’t give you what you’re asking, Gia. I can’t promise you my time because I live so far away and I have a wife and a family that I need to be with. Please… It would also be better if you don’t send your lawyers to Linda anymore. You can still back out from this deal. You don’t have to go through with it.”

Gia realized that she was not going to get through to him that way so she composed herself and pretended to see reason. “Okay… Okay, fine, Nick. I see what you mean. As much as I hate this to happen, I agree with you. You… you, obviously, cannot leave your wife and you’re not willing to so I guess this is the best course… But I still want to go through with the deal. I want to invest in your bank and I’m serious with conducting business with your company. This has nothing to do with our affair, it’s purely business.” She cleared her throat as Linda came back from the restroom with a ready smile on her face.

They conducted their lunch meeting and Nick and Linda proceeded to their scheduled sight-seeing that afternoon and their dinner afterwards.

Gia went home with a heavy heart but with a plotting mind. She can’t simply let Nick go. What she wants, she gets, was all she ever knew in her life. And she wanted Nick. She sent her trusted lawyer to Linda the next day to make the necessary arrangements on the investment. She was serious about the partnership, that part was true, but she also had an ulterior motive. She still wanted some form of communication with Nick and she can do that by becoming partners in a business venture. That way, she could fly to the U.S. as much as she could and no one would be the wiser. It would simply appear as if she was checking on her investment when she really wanted to see more of Nick and continue convincing him to come back to her… And quite possibly, have him ditch Linda in the end.

The next day, Linda met with Gia’s lawyer and he entrusted her with Gia’s fortune, not knowing that Linda would screw them over and make Gia’s life a living hell after that. And that was exactly what she did.

Linda had managed to mess up Gia’s accounts the moment she got back to the US, and even made up some offshore ones to show that there was some kind of illegal activity in her string of companies in Europe. Linda, being a “good citizen and a moral human being”, anonymously reported these made-up illegal activities and blamed it all on Gia de Grassi. It was the biggest feat Linda managed to pull off as of yet. She used all her connections in getting the dead done at the same time, keeping it all from Nick, or at least keeping herself off from all the drama and controversy that Gia had to deal with back in Europe.

Nick, in the meantime, didn’t know the specifics of the issue and honestly, didn’t pay any mind to it when he got back to the states and got swallowed up with work. Linda kept assuring him that it was all a mix up and that Gia just decided to quit the deal without explaining much. And that was that for Gia de Grassi in the lives of the McElroys.

Until she came back into existence, only four years later…

 

 

Chapter IV

 

Cornelia arrives at the crematorium early the next day. The funeral service is not until nine in the morning but it’s only eight. She looks around consciously, not wanting people to see her but uncertain if it was the right building as well.

She feels the same pang of heart-wrenching tightness in her chest like the one she felt ten years ago, when she stepped on the pavement leading to the establishment a few minutes earlier. Her emotional pain was so great that it’s physically impairing her breathing. She stands on the hard ground near the parking lot and can’t seem to take another step towards the threshold of the funeral home. It’s been about five minutes of her just staring down on the pavement and contemplating if she can go through with the funeral.

“I can’t…,” she whispers to herself, clutching the small bag she bought with some of her valuables. She never thought she had a family left but for him to be taken away so early, just as she found out that she had a grandfather, was literally breaking her heart apart into a million pieces.

A hand gently touches her shoulder. “You can, my child. You have to… for James,” Jim, the butler was behind her with a sad smile on his old but friendly face.

He must have been the same age as James, around seventy or older, but he has the use of both his legs, unlike James who wore a cane for the past ten years or so of his life.

Cornelia feels a great sense of gratitude for the old man and a familiar feeling of closeness like what she had with James. She nods at him and sighs. She takes a step forward and then another and another, finding courage in each step to go further.

Just a few more and you’ll be inside, and then it would be easier to walk all the way to his… to his coffin, she thinks to herself.

She talks herself into finding the courage to go through the day but as she is currently finding out, getting inside the building isn’t even the hardest part but she’s struggling so much already.

James’ lifeless body was already laid out in his coffin earlier this morning and would be cremated after a short ceremony. Then they are going to bury his ashes in his estate. A mausoleum was already set up years before he even died in preparation for his death. Kevin has filled her in with the details when they talked yesterday. She owes a lot to Kevin who took charge of the situation when she left and arranged everything. She feels so ashamed for leaving just like that but everything was too much to take all at once that she couldn’t stand to stay there any longer, knowing that James had passed on.

As she approaches the coffin where James was laid to rest, she feels dread coming over her body. Dread not from seeing a dead body but seeing another family member who died. Someone who will never ever again look into her eyes and talk to her. He will never again call or pay her a visit just to say “Hi”. That familiar soothing voice will never again be heard by her ears or anybody else’s ever again. And his curt walk with his cane would never be again witnessed by anybody… especially not her.

She peers through the glass of the coffin and looks at his peaceful face. It really looks as if he was just sleeping or taking a nice siesta in the afternoon, just like what he used to do when she visited him one time in his hotel room in New York. He always seemed to travel a lot but kept tabs on her from time to time. He never invited her to his home though, and that’s probably because of the secret he was keeping from her. But he did invite her to his hotel whenever he had some business dealings in the city.

She remembers one day when she decided to have dinner with him at the Four Seasons. It was a birthday, she thinks, possibly hers… She went to his hotel room and found him dozing off in his chair, facing the skyline of Manhattan through the glass windows of his suite. It was the first time she saw him unaware and she imagined then that if she had a grandpa of her own, he would have looked like James. All gray hair and those friendly wrinkles on the sides of his eyes. He must have been handsome in his youth and she wondered then why he never introduced a wife, daughter, or grandkids to her. She never pried, of course. It wasn’t her business and she respected his privacy just as he respected hers. She looked at him for several minutes, enjoying his peaceful guise, then decided to wake him gently so they could chat. It was one of those rare moments that she let her guard down and imagined having a family…

And all along, he really was her grandpa. She never even had a day with him to bask on the joy she felt for finally finding a living close relative.

“Hi gr-grandpa… I miss you. I’m not mad at you anymore… I was, when you first told me, but I’m not anymore. I wish I could have told you…,” she began sniffing because she couldn’t contain the tears from falling down her face. “I- I wish I could have told you how much I appreciate you for looking out for me all these years, without even asking for anything in return, and without even telling me who you really were… It must have been hard to keep all those things from me, but you did because you thought I would run away just like what mom did…”

She fishes a hanky out of her bag and dabs her eyes. She looks into his seemingly sleeping guise again and smiles down at him.

“I know you didn’t mean for things to happen that way between you and Mom… I know you probably asked for forgiveness a thousand times and felt guilty for not getting hers. Don’t worry grandpa,” her voice catches in her throat, but goes on, “Mom understands what you did. You only thought of what was best for her when she was still alive… And knowing her, she’s forgiven you long before she even parted this world, she was probably just as stubborn as you to admit it,” she laughs a little, wiping more tears from her eyes.

Cornelia contains her sobs and thought of the happy times they had over the last four years that she’d known him. She holds on to those memories as she continues to stand in front of his coffin.

She wonders who would give James’ eulogy. Kevin didn’t ask her to do it, being the only family he had, but she also knows that she is also the least person who knew him well enough to give his eulogy. Kevin knew him the best, she supposes, so she guesses that he would be giving the eulogy.

“I guess Kevin will be speaking today. I’m glad that if he would because I don’t think I could go through it. Even if there are only a few people, I couldn’t stand in front of them and describe you when I don’t rightly know you as much as I wanted to. I wouldn’t do any justice to your memories… Yes… I’m glad Kevin is here to do it. He’s your most trusted confidant and I’m thankful to him for keeping you company all these years,” she says, feeling a little better now that she had seen him and is slowly trying to get things off her chest even if he’s not physically alive to hear them anymore. It still gives her a sense of relief that she’s pouring it out and not keeping it in like what she always did with her hatred towards Nick and her grief for losing her mother.

At the same moment, Kevin walks in the room where they kept the coffins before the cremation itself. The ceremony would take place at the crematorium room where the body would actually be burned and then the ashes are collected to give to the family members.

“Hey, you’re here. Have you been here long? Sorry, I had to do some errands. Did you come alone?” Kevin asks looking all-professional and businesslike about the whole thing. It was as if something had changed with him. He wasn’t the usual calm and quiet man that her grandpa always had around.

“Um, yeah. I just arrived a few minutes ago,” she responds while wiping her face with her hanky. “I… I came alone and I’m not staying long. I don’t want to be here when all the people came.”

“Aren’t you staying for the ceremony and the burial? I mean, he was your grandfather. Don’t you think it appropriate for you to stick around?” he asks with a raised eyebrow.

It feels a little intrusive of him but Cornelia realized he might probably be right. If only for formalities sake, she is the only living relative that James would leave behind. But she prefers to stay in the background and just be a silent participant and not speak at all.

“I suppose you are right, Kevin. Thanks for reminding me. Its… It’s all too soon and too confusing for me that I have not fully realized that I am a Wilson and I owe it to James to be there when the people pay their final respects to him. Will you be staying as well? I meant to ask you… Would you be doing his eulogy then?” She feels a little ashamed that she didn’t think things through but is thankful to Kevin, yet again, for reminding her.

Oh I wish Morrison was here… The thought came out of nowhere and it even shocked Cornelia for even thinking about Morrison. She focuses her attention back to Kevin.

“I was thinking that I should do it since I was the one with him all these years. I mean, you could if you want to. Of course, you’re the relative here,” he adds.

She shakes her head and replies, “No. You should do it. You’re right. You’re the one who was always by his side all these years. I’m okay with just being quiet. If you ask me, I just want to privately say my goodbye and go. I wouldn’t know anybody in the funeral anyway.”

Well, you that’s what you should do, butt off and go your way. You didn’t slave your way into the old man’s trusted circle. I did. And I’ll be damned if you just take all that money away without even sparing me crumb or just give me the whole lot of it. Don’t worry, darling, I would make sure you leave here empty-handed.

Kevin’s true colors are starting to show. He couldn’t wait for this day to come. For the old man to finally kick the bucket and go his merry way and leave all his riches to those who deserve it… Surely not the ones who didn’t do anything to care for the man.

She is just a relative, that’s all. She never saw James at his worst, only at his best. I did all the dirty work for him and I endured because in the end, I knew that I would eventually get my due… but she came along and now, she most definitely get all his riches. He never should have found her in the first place if he just stayed where he was supposed to and not go wandering around himself in search for his long lost good-for-nothing granddaughter!

“I guess it is for the best that I should speak in his behalf. But do stay behind for the will because I believe that he would leave his estates to you, naturally…,” he seemed to spit out the words as if it tasted bitter on his lips but then smiled dubiously at her.

“Oh, I – I didn’t think he would have thought of me… Honestly, I wouldn’t want any part in it. I have lived this way all my life and having money and riches wouldn’t make me happy. I would rather have it donated to charities and other organizations where I know it would do people some good.” She gives it some more thought and says, “Yes, if James did leave me some money, I would donate them. I wouldn’t want it used for any other means. Would you help me ensure that, Kevin? I’m sure you would feel the same since you’re his closest confidant. You know what James would want us to do with his fortune,” she says with a voice filled with hope.

Shit! What the hell! No fucking way! I won’t squander all that cash to charities! Are you kidding me?! “Of course, Cornelia, I’ll help you,” he answers.

But in his mind, he’s already thinking of ways on how to coerce, manipulate, and if it comes to it, force her to give him the rights to the fortune that James had surely left for her.

Some people started coming and the crematorium started to fill up with visitors. Cornelia doesn’t recognize any of the ones that arrived until she saw a familiar face and she is filled with relief.

“Hello beautiful. How are you? I didn’t see you anymore yesterday. Where did you go off to?” Barret comes up to her and gives her a warm hug.

Cornelia clings to him for an extra minute and closes her eyes. She feels so much better that Barret is there with her. Now, she could at least turn to someone she can trust and depend on him to have her back.

“Oh, Barret… You don’t know how happy I am to see you… Please stay with me throughout the ceremony and after. Are you going someplace else after James’ funeral?” she draws herself away from him only to look him in the eyes with lost eyes.

Barret couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor kid. She’s been through a lot and she needs someone she can depend on in this particular time. He places his palm on the side of her face and says,

“No. I’m here for you. I’ll be here, don’t worry.” His mind takes him back to his unforgettable time he had with Sally only yesterday.

 

After the incident at the hospital, with Cornelia going off like that and Morrison going after her to find her, Barret decided to call Sally and find out the place where she was staying. He called her when he was at the parking lot as Kevin drove away in his car. He couldn’t explain the feeling he felt at that moment but all he knew was that he wanted to see her again. He took out her business card which she slipped into his hands when they parted.

“Hey, Sally? It’s me Barret,” he said with his deep voice. “Have you found a place to stay? Is it okay for me to come over?” he asked, closing his eyes, hoping that she’d say yes.

“Sure, Barret. I’m here at the Grand Park Hotel. Its only a few minutes from the hospital, to your right if you’re at the parking lot.” She gave him more directions and within a few minutes, he was on his way to her.

He hasn’t been that excited to see someone since he met Cornelia and it’s a different feeling altogether. With Cornelia, he felt curios about her. He wanted to protect Cornelia from the world because of what he saw in her eyes the night when she came home crying. She was so broken and alone that he felt compelled to give her the security she deserved, being a young woman who never had any visitors to her apartment and who didn’t go to family holidays or even parties.

But with Sally… It was a different kind of curiosity. He knows from the moment he met her, when she stuck aa knife at his side, that she is a strong woman who went through undesirable circumstances but unlike Cornelia, Sally had this spark in her eyes that said she hasn’t given up on love and would gladly give it another try. He could see her personality through her smile. Sally did not hurt like Cornelia and because of that, she still sees the world as a good place to be in. A place to find a new love and to give that second chance the best she got yet.

That’s what Barret sees in Sally. And that’s what draws him to her. He needed to feel that alive again. He feels that with Sally, he could grow out of his shell and experience the world with her.

He still feels strongly on protecting Cornelia, but now that he met Sally, he looks at Cornelia more of a little sister that needed protection. He, himself, is shocked at how quickly his feelings changed over the course of a few hours. That’s how strongly Sally impacted him. And he doesn’t care if she had a relationship with Morrison before. It was her past and he’s willing to accept anything about her if she would give him a chance.

When he knocked on her hotel room door, she came quickly to open it and had a ready smile for him. She was dressed in a different outfit, jeans and a shirt. She had on a dress earlier but as Barret looked at her, she looked more relaxed in what she was wearing then.

“Hi… Please, come in,” she said in a small voice. She had no make-up on and she looked radiant. “I’m sorry about the mess, I was just unpacking and just got out of the shower. Please, make yourself comfortable.” She proceeded to picking up her bag and neatly stashing it in the cabinet beside the king-sized bed.

Her hotel room was very spacious and it had a terrace that overlooked the ocean outside.

“Please, don’t make a fuss about it. You should see my house. Hah! That, I can tell you, have not been organized for a year now,” he said chuckling and feeling more relaxed now that he’s with her.

“Oh stop making feel better. I know its crazy in here.” She was pertaining to the towels on the small sofa on the foot of the bed and another one draped on a chair near the bathroom.

Barret shook his head and couldn’t imagine what she would say if she ever saw his room. A few towels doesn’t constitute as messy for him. He laughed again and said,

“If you don’t believe me, you should come over sometime and see for yourself…” It came out unexpectedly but as soon as he heard himself say it, he pictured what it would be like having Sally over in his lonely house and filling it with joy just because she was there.

She looked at him with a serious face and he was almost afraid that she’d order her out of her room but then her face broke into a demure smile and she replied, “I’d love that…”

He took two steps towards her and took her in his arms then. He hugged her tight and she clung to him like there was no tomorrow. There was a feeling of electric charges going off inside their bodies and as he leaned down to kiss her, the world dissolved around them. All they could think about at that moment was their bodies dancing and swaying to the rhythm of their union.

A few minutes later, they lay in bed, still locked in each others’ arms, enjoying the aftermath of their lovemaking.

“You know, I never thought that I would ever be this intimate with another man again… at least not this soon after what happened with me and…,” she paused then shook her head. “Forget it. I’m over and done with the past. I need to start living in the present,” she finished saying as she looked up at Barret’s face.

“Sally, honey… When you’re with me, you don’t have to hide. I know about your past and believe me, you’re not the only one with failed relationships. I had a divorce myself, just over a year ago. We’re still good friends though… I guess we never realized it before we got married, that we were always better off friends but not husband and wife. We never had children either so maybe it was for the best that we didn’t consider having kids because we would’ve just ended up hurting them,” he replied in a subdued voice.

“That’s too bad… You would’ve been a great dad, I could tell,” Sally answered.

“It’s not too late, you know. I could still father a son or a daughter or maybe a few… I assume it would be great to have kids with someone who would want to have them with me…” He let the sentence hand and looked down at her with a serious expression on his face.

“Barret… I think we’re moving too fast… I mean we just met and I… I don’t know yet what to do when I get back to my old life,” Sally replied drawing away from him and sitting up. She wrapped the sheet around her and pulled her legs up from under her, propping her chin on her knees like a little girl.

“I know! And I normally don’t do this… proposing to have a family with a woman I just met and slept with all in the same day! But these are not under normal circumstances and we both know that we met not by coincidence… Maybe the universe is trying to tell us something. You came here with a purpose to avenge yourself for the wring that was done to you and I was here to comfort a friend. But somehow, we met and even with you attempting to cut me,” he chuckled as he saw the look of horror on her face.

“Oh my, God! You’re right… I did try to harm you! I’m so sorry about that Barret… I didn’t mean… I was not thinking straight-,” she started explaining but Barret took both of her hands and kissed them.

“I know, darling. I know… You were hurting and I was just there at the wrong time… No. I think I was there in the right place at the right moment for you to bump into me. Because from the moment I met you, there isn’t a single second that was normal for me. And I have been that way all my life. I have always been normal and I have always been drawn to women who have abnormal situations… And I think that I  have finally found that one person who will fill my life with enough extraordinary and abnormal things that I wouldn’t be looking for something else… Something that I feel would complete my overly normal life… And I have found that in you, Sally.”

Barret had sat up as well and even in his seated state, he towered over Sally’s small frame. She was looking at him with a tearful expression on her face.

Oh my… Is this guy for real? Could I be so lucky to have found the one person who could make everything better for me? She asked herself silently as she continued staring at his sweet and gentle eyes.

His grip on her hands was firm but gentle as if telling her that it would be the same treatment he would give her if she gives herself to him fully. He was telling her through his actions how it would be like if she ever wanted a life with him.

“I never met anyone like you in my life, Sally.. And I have existed long enough to realize the real thing if its standing right in front of me. I want to grab that chance… this chance to have a life with someone who have captured me fully…” It was like he was already proposing to her because Barret was that kind of man. For him, life is fleeting… Like what happened to his parents. You can never tell when your life would end so he vowed to himself to experience everything as they come. To not hold himself back for any reason. Even his divorce was a blessing for him because without it, he wouldn’t have valued his friendship with his ex-wife like he has ever since they separated. He learned from his mistakes and he wanted to share himself with Sally because he knew that she was the one for him.

“I- I don’t know what to say, Barret,” Sally whispered. She’s trying to contain her joy but her fear and reservations about the situation that was happening so fast, were slowly taking over. She shook her head several times as if trying to ward off her thoughts then said in a heartbroken voice, “No, Barret. I think it’s best for everyone involved that I go away for a while… You know, to deal with my stuff…”

She stood up with her tousled hair and flushed face. She looked so radiant and alluring that Barret wanted to pull her back and make love to her again in the bed they shared earlier. But he stopped himself because she was obviously distressed.

Sally couldn’t deal with Barret’s honesty at that moment. She’s afraid that it’s not for real… that it’s going to turn out another failed relationship if she continued with their whirlwind romance. The last time she was with a man and gave her trust to him, she was taken advantage of and was forced to do acts that were against her will…

“I’m sorry Barret… I have never done anything like this as well. I mean, before, when I was with Morrison or even prior to meeting him, I was wild and young… and did stupid stuff that I’m not proud of but nothing like this now that I’m older…” Her back was turned to him and her head was looking down on her hands. She was so scared of Barret’s declarations that her instinct was telling her to run away, far away from the promise of Barret’s love for it might not be true…

What if he found out about what Larry did to me? Would he be disgusted and ashamed that he ever met me? No… No, he can’t find out that I was raped… I don’t want his resentment if he does… And most of all, I couldn’t take it if I saw pity in his eyes…

Barret stood up and slowly went to her, hugging her from behind with only the sheets between them. She closed her eyes at the comfort of being held by him. It was evident in his touches and kisses that he was a sincere guy and that she would be a lucky girl if she gets his heart.

But Sally’s mind was still in disarray. She just spoke to Morrison earlier that day and her emotions were still in turmoil over the fact that he never intended for those misfortunes to happen to her. However relieved she felt after talking to him, the events that happened after his mother sent her away, still happened. That’s what she needs to deal with… She’s over Morrison and their past but the fear and trauma that the rape left her with still affected her so much that it’s preventing her to function normally in social situations, much so if she ever entered a romantic relationship ever again.

She never even thought she could have sex with a man ever again after what happened to her. But she seemed to forget the pain and trauma when Barret’s gentle hands and kisses touched her skin…

But still… I can’t deal with being in a serious relationship or any relationship right now… I owe it to him and to myself to be one hundred percent okay before I decide to love again.

“I never wanted to come here. If it wasn’t for my stupid grudge towards Morrison, I wouldn’t have thought of coming all the way here just to wreak havoc. But I’m also glad that I did… Because I got to settle my stuff with him and I got an explanation. I guess that’s what I was really after… after all these years, I just needed an explanation straight from his mouth, you know?” Sally said with a resigned voice, hoping that he believed her. She was trying to divert the situation over to her getting over Morrison and not about something else.

She walked towards the bathroom and closed the door gently, breaking off their intimate embrace. Barret grabbed his jeans and put them on as Sally got dressed in the bathroom. He could hear her sobbing inside so he approached the bathroom door and knocked gently.

“Sally? Are you all right? Are you feeling okay?” he asked, placing both hands on the door.

She stifled her sobs and washed her face vigorously.

“I’m okay, Barret. Just a little tired. I’ll be out in a minute,” she answered.

Oh, Sally, what are you doing? Are you ready for this? Are you ready to walk away from this? She asked herself silently in her head as she looked at her reddish eyes and flushed face.

In just a few hours, she experienced a lot and learned a lot from her visit in this quaint town in the Hamptons. She went from crazy vengeful to finding a resolution to her yearlong hatred. She felt hate and relief all at the expanse of a few minutes… And then finally, the hope of love and security a few hours later.

She finally got out of the bathroom and faced Barret who was then fully dressed. He was looking out the terrace window and turned at the exact moment she appeared from the bathroom. Her breath caught in her throat at seeing this handsome man in front of her. Someone who offered his love and loyalty to her a few minutes ago and who was looking at her with so much care and love that her heart was melting in her chest.

Oh God! How could I refuse this man? Please God, help me be strong to deny him… To deny myself the love that I so long to have… I have to be fair to him and to myself.

Barret felt something was wrong and that Sally was slowly slipping away from him. He poured out his feelings to her hoping she’d feel the same but mostly because he couldn’t contain it anymore. He’s never been that open before but after his divorce, he saw the importance of finding someone he really liked and making sure to keep them while they are there.

Sally came out of the bathroom with sad eyes and her nose was a little red. Probably from crying… But why would she cry if I just all but proposed to her? Doesn’t she feel the same towards me? Not even a little bit? The questions were circling his mind and it was about to drive him crazy. Thankfully, Sally spoke up.

“Barret… Look. I’m very flattered with what you told me about… about your feelings towards me,” she started.

Barret could feel a huge “but” that was coming after her initial sentence.

“But… I’m a broken person and I want to fix myself first before I could give myself fully to anyone… especially to you.” She closed the distance between them and took one hand in hers. “Please don’t think of this as a rejection… It’s just a speedbump. I’m just asking for more time to sort myself out.”

Barret looked into her eyes and saw that she was baring herself to him and being honest about her true emotions. The look in her eyes told him that she was hurting deep inside and what she needed now was not him… She needed time to heal and get to know herself again. To gather the broken pieces of her soul and try to patch them back together so she can find herself again.

He gripped her hand and hugged her to him. “I understand completely, Sally. Take all the time you need. I’m just here. Just let me know when it’s okay for me to come back to your life again and I’ll be there in less than a second. I swear,” he whispered into her ear as he inhaled her scent one more time… maybe for the last time in a long time. He just wanted to keep this moment in his head and hold her for the longest time possible until it was time to part.

And it came too quickly for them both. Sally was the first one to break the embrace and caressed the side of his face as she looked lovingly to the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with… but not at that time.

He told her that he would need to travel to Upstate New York for James’ funeral and he had to leave in an hour so he could be there in the evening. The funeral was the next day but he wanted to be there that day to make sure that Cornelia would be all right. He was still worried about her and he knew that she needed him more than ever especially since she and Morrison were not in good terms. He explained it to Sally which she understood and even urged him to make sure that Cornelia was taken care of.

“She has no one else in the world now and she needs you to be there for her. Thank you for being such a wonderful person… I would miss you every single minute we are apart,” she said in a sad voice.

He was about to hug her to him again but this time, he stopped himself. He was only prolonging their agony. Instead, he nodded, kissed the back of her hand, and turned around. He walked out the door with a sad heart but hopeful for what the future might bring. He knew he would see her again. He just needed to wait for the perfect time.

 

“What happened to you yesterday after I left? I’m sorry a-,” Cornelia starts explaining to Barret but he cuts him off.

“Shhh. You don’t need to explain anything to me, Cornelia. I understand that you had to do what you did. I would’ve gone to the roof as well if I found out about my real identity. It’s okay. Kevin took care of everything after you left. I was just standing around there, trying to assist as best as I could,” he replies in a subdued tone.

He doesn’t tell her about his conversation with Sally because she didn’t need to hear it. He surmises that she’s still probably mad about what she saw at the hospital when Sally and Morrison were in each other’s arms. He’ll tell her in another time perhaps.

“Oh, Barret… You don’t know what it felt like for me finding out that James was my grandfather all this time… We’ve known each other for nearly four years and I spent most of my time with him, telling him about my mother and how I  longed to have a family of my own… He told me at the last minute… I don’t hate him for keeping it from me, I mean, I understand that he was afraid I would run away as well if I ever found out. But I feel cheated! I could’ve spent more time with him and treated him better… More than just a good friend.”

Barret takes her aside, away from the prying eyes of the people who were milling into the crematorium. Some of them he recognizes as owners of companies and businessmen, but he doesn’t know anyone at a personal level.

They find a secluded room just outside the crematorium. It was a small chapel with the cross in the middle and miniature sculptures of saints on the sides. Barret sits her down on one of the pews and takes out his handkerchief.

“Here, please take this,” he gives her the handkerchief as she dabs her eyes carefully.

“Thanks. I’m sorry. I’m bawling in here when I should be out there welcoming those people who want to pay their respects to James…”

“No, you are right where you should be at this moment. You don’t need to entertain anyone. You need to be comforted for your loss and they should understand why you’re not in a chatty mood, okay,” he says firmly, holding her shoulders upright to give her strength and composure.

She sighs and looks at the altar.

“I’m going to tell you a secret, Barret…,” she starts.

Barret listens intently and can’t help but feel that people have really gotten into the habit of telling him their secrets. Was he really that trustworthy?

“I used to be filled with hate. I lived and breathed for the day that my enemies will fall to their feet and grovel. I longed for the time when those who are at the top, to finally fall to the ground and feel the hurt and experience the excruciating pain of being kicked while they are down and low in the mud. I held on to that expectation. I must admit that James had helped me to feel more strongly towards getting my revenge on the people whom I thought have wronged me… But at his last minutes on earth, James came clean and told me the truth. And the truth was, we, ourselves, are our greatest enemies. The grudges we hold on to and the lying and hurting we go through and inflict on others will come back to us and bite us in the ass one day.” She continues to look ahead, at the cross, with glazed eyes. It’s as if she’s not even talking to him in particular, but to the world, and to herself.

“Since James told me the truth that Nick McElroy is my father… Yes, Morrison’s dad is my biological father. Can you believe that?” she chuckles and glances at his face. “What’s the matter? You don’t seem shocked about this,” she asks.

“Cornelia… James told me about your relationship with Nick McElroy and that he was your grandfather. He told me the night when you were rescued and brought to his house in the Hamptons.” He remains silent for a few minutes as she digests it all in. He actually expects her to throw a fit, hit him, curse him, throw stuff, or just basically go crazy. But to his surprise, she smiles and nods.

“James was really a great judge of character. If he told you his secret, a secret as big as this, it means that he trusted you to keep it and tell me all about it at the right time. It means that you’ve helped him unload the heavy burden of keeping our real relationship a secret. Thank you, Barret. For being there for him when I couldn’t.” she hugs him tightly after she replied and he feels her shoulders rock with emotion.

He pats her back and smiles down on her. “Thank you, Cornelia. For being such a good person… For knowing that the only way to get your revenge on those who hurt you is to forgive them and, most especially, to forgive yourself. It takes a good person to know that they have gone bad.”

Cornelia smiles through her tears and draws herself away from Barret and says as an afterthought, “You know… You should’ve been a counselor… Or maybe a priest. You’re so good at perceiving people and you’re spot on when you give pieces of advice. I’m so lucky to have you as my friend. Thank you for being you.”

He gently nudges her on the shoulder and winks jokingly. “I can be a counselor but I’m not sure that I would be a good priest…”

They share a subdued laugh and it was the best feeling Cornelia has had the whole day.

Morrison looks at them from his post outside the small chapel. Cornelia and Barret’s backs were turned towards the altar but he could still see the sweetness they have for each other. They even shared a private joke and he nudged her on the shoulder, emitting a positive response from her.

His heart aches at the thought that he couldn’t get close to Cornelia. He couldn’t even show himself for fear that she might just walk past him and pretend he wasn’t there. He couldn’t take it if she gave him the cold shoulder but he would understand if that would be her behavior if he decides to show himself to her.

It’s her time to grieve right now and despite the hurt and betrayal he feels inside, he’s glad that Barret is there to give her the comfort that she needs… the kind of comfort that he couldn’t give her at her most vulnerable time.

He continues to hide behind the big post that was holding the building up. He struggles with himself if he should show himself or respect her wish and leave her alone.

In the end, he decides to leave…

Morrison walks out of the crematorium and gets in his sports car. He drove all night to the place where James would finally be put to rest. He didn’t make any long stops along the way he has a full day’s worth of stubble. He looks haggard and sleep-deprived but he didn’t care. He wanted to see Cornelia and to make sure she was all right.

And he did… He did see her and she was all right…

Thanks to that son-of-a-bitch! He hits the steering wheel of his Porsche with the back of his hand and feels the pain after a few seconds.

He closes his eyes and welcomes the pain. All of it. But no matter how hurt he was at hitting the wheel, it is just a fraction of what he is feeling in his heart at that moment. He has never been emotional but he couldn’t shake the fact that Cornelia is happy with someone else.

How could she move on right away? Doesn’t she love me anymore? Even just a little bit?

He opens his eyes and feels that hurt slowly turning into dislike, then annoyance, and then, finally, to hate.

I fucking hate them! They are all liars! They don’t deserve my time or my love. She doesn’t want me? Fine! Then I don’t want her! The hell with giving a damn! From this time on, I would no longer care about her.

His stare could very well pierce through the cement of the building and through her. His heart has been filled with jealous rage and he slowly turns into someone he’s never met before.

 

 

 

Chapter V

 

After their talk in the chapel, Cornelia respectfully let Kevin do the short eulogy for James, knowing full well that he would do a much better job at honoring James than she could.

James’ remains were buried in the mausoleum behind his massive estate just a few minutes from the crematorium. It was the house where Julie grew up in and Cornelia couldn’t contain her excitement as she walks up the cemented steps leading to the backdoor of the house. They were directed straight to the gardens when they arrived and walked around the house so she hasn’t seen the interior of the house yet.

There is to be a short snack inside the house as people started to pile into the big Victorian-style house.

Many people had approached her at the crematorium after Kevin introduced her as James’ only living relative and granddaughter. No one knew that James had a relative and they were pleasantly surprised that she was there.

“Our condolences again, my dear,” an elderly woman, Rose, greeted her at the door as she fell in step with her at the threshold of the house.

“Thank you, madame. I appreciate it very much,” Cornelia responds and smiles.

They continue forward and Cornelia can’t help but let her jaw drop at the extravagance of the living room. It has a different look and feel from the one in the Hamptons. The house they stayed in the Hamptons was a little more toned down, having walls the colors of brown and grey. This one had yellow, almost, orange, couches of different sorts. On the corner is a big old-fashioned reading chair, next to the window that offers a great amount of sunlight to the room. This room had no ocean view like the one at the Hamptons but it has a great view of the gardens and the mausoleum.

She looks to her right and sees a grand piano that dominated that side of the living room, next to a hearth. She could imagine Julie curling up on the couch right across the fireplace on a cold and breezy night and just enjoying a good book or two over coffee or tea.

That thought brings a smile to her face. What she would give to actually see that scene play out…

“Welcome Miss Cornelia,” Jim greets her from behind the adjoining doors of the living room. “Please come inside.” Jim opens the door a little wider for her so she can see the inside of the room.

It was actually a study that is adjoined to the living room. As she enters, she sees rows of books lining the wooden aisles of the four corners of the room.

“Whoa!” she blurts outloud, not being to contain yet another awe-inspired moment of that grand house.

“Great, isn’t it?” Jim’s openly smiling and friendly face gives her comfort while Barret was left in the living room, talking with some people he admires in the business world. She’s glad that he’s able to meet prospective clients and hopes that he gets to have some great investments out of it.

“Grand is more like it… I’ve never been in a room with more books than this one inside ones home. Unless it’s a library, that is. I can see that James loves his books. He must spend so much time in here, huh?” Her head is still tilted upwards, surveying the titles of the books in the room.

The upper part of the room is where the books are properly placed that extends up as far as the ceiling, which is a very high ceiling, she could see. A ladder is placed at one side of the room for the convenience of the person who wants to read a book from those high bookcases. It’s no ordinary ladder, she observes. It’s one of those ladders used in real libraries where it has wheels and can whirl around the place with no problem.

“Actually, he did, and young Miss Julie also frequented this place. She loved spending time here with her father when she was younger,” Jim adds.

That statement causes Cornelia to look back at Jim with a happy smile. Tears start to come to her eyes but she quickly wipes them away and chuckles. “Sorry, hah! I’m tearing up in here over some books, that’s a first. I usually read just to get to sleep faster but now that I know that both my mother and grandfather loved perusing these pages, I would have to get into that tradition as well.” She says lightly to dispel the sadness in her eyes.

Jim nods at her and smiles back, “I am certain that they would love to see you frequent this room as well when you’re all settled.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” she asks trying to understand what Jim was trying to say.

“He means that you have inherited all of James’ estates, properties, companies, and all that he had toiled for in the years of his life. All of his assets are going to be turned over to you. He doesn’t really have any liabilities at this point since he knew how to do business and always had a backup plan for everything. So, Miss Wilson, shall we sit and discuss this further?” says a man who is dressed in an impeccable suit with a slim suitcase on one hand.

“W-who are you? And how do you know that he left me anything?” she asks, feeling overwhelmed by what he said. She knows that James is a businessman and probably had a substantial amount of cash but she could never prepare herself for what’s to come.

“Hi, sorry, my name is John Klein,” he extends his hand and shakes hers in a firm manner. “I’m Mr. Wilson’s attorney. I take care of his legal documents. First of all, I am very sorry for your loss young miss. I knew James for a long time. He hired me straight out of law school and gave me a chance. I owe him my career actually and I am saddened to see him go so soon. He was a man I respected and considered a dear friend…,” he said with sincerity. “I know this because he called me last week and had me run over the will which he had asked me to draft a few years ago, around four years ago, I believe. And he never revised it. I guess he had a feeling that he might need to check it again…”

“Th-thank you Mr. Klein. I’m sure he respected and valued your friendship as well. I’m sorry for being skeptic, it’s just that I really didn’t know him that well. I only found out that he was my grandfather the day when… w-when he passed,” she replies giving him a sad smile, trying hard to remember the James she knew when he was alive and not the moment that he died in her arms.

“Thank you as well, Miss Wilson. Please, call me John. I am not here to push you or anything but if you would permit, I would like to read the will to you… unless we are waiting for someone else to be present.” John raises his eyebrows as if in question if they were, in fact, waiting for other people to come and listen to the will.

“Yes, and I am here now so we can proceed if you may John?” Kevin waltzes inside the study and sits himself on one of the chairs of the long table in the middle of the room. He looks different that day. More confident, more interactive, perhaps.

Cornelia couldn’t put her finger on it but she feels that Kevin had just broken out of his shell and is slowly revealing his true self. He used to be very timid and talked less than he was these past few days but she guesses that it was because he had to step up and arrange James’ funeral and his other affairs.

Cornelia shrugs off the feeling she has for Kevin’s transformation and just focuses on the task at hand.

She nods at John and they all sit around the table as Jim leaves to get them some refreshments.

“Okay, so, as I have told Miss Wilson here, James called me up last week and we went through his will again for any final revisions. So far he didn’t ask me to do any except for some changes on his message, so let’s start, shall we?” John asks as both Kevin and Cornelia nod their heads.

“To my dear Cornelia, I am deeply honored to have known you these past few years and I hope that in my death, you and Julie, would find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

Cornelia can feel tears come rushing back to her eyes but clenches her hands into fists to try to contain herself. Kevin maintains a blank expression on his face.

“I leave to you, Cornelia Lewis Wilson, my entire estate, properties, and investments, amounting to a net worth of 700 Million dollars in total,” John said in a neutral voice.

Cornelia still can’t digest everything that’s happening and what it means to her so she remains silent. Kevin, on the other hand, leans forward at the mention of the current net worth of James’ assets. He looks to be very interested in what was coming next.

“And to Kevin Albright, who was my constant companion over the course of more than two decades, I leave you one million dollars and a pick of any of my cars, which I am sure you have driven all of them. Thank you for your services. To my employees…,” John continues stating that the workers of his merchandising company get an annual profit-sharing amount based on the total revenue of the company over the course of a year.

“What?” Kevin blurts out. “I-I’m sorry,” he says immediately. “I, ah, I was just surprised that he even left me anything… Heh,” he laughs nervously.

What?! He left me a million dollars only? And a stupid car? That’s not gonna cut it. I am so deep in debt that by the time I’ve paid off all of them, I’d end up having a few thousand dollars… Shit! I can’t have that. I must do something about it…

What nobody knew about Kevin is that he is a notorious gambler. He had always been and that was why he even had to rob James in the first place, all those years ago. He does feel indebted to James for taking him out of the streets but he never helped him with his gambling debts. He tried asking before, when he just started, to loan some cash from James to pay off some of those people he owed money to and he got the cash but he also got back in the game as soon as he had money to burn. He promised James before that he was never going to gamble ever again once he paid off those loan sharks, so he kept his gambling activities on the side, a secret from his employer and from everybody else.

Over the years, he accumulated more debt and more and more loan sharks are after him for the amount of cash he owes from a lot of people. Of course, he was careful in keeping his occupation a secret so James wouldn’t find out and given that James was busy with his granddaughter, Kevin managed to slip away several times to gamble.

Now, he needs the money James has given to Cornelia. He needs more than a million dollars and a lousy car if he ever wants to pay off all of his debts and still live comfortably for the rest of his life. Needless to say that he would surely continue on with his gambling ways if he ever gets a hold of Cornelia’s inheritance.

“Oh, Kevin, of course James would leave you something to help you out like what you have done for him. Thank you for being there for my grandfather all these years,” Cornelia answers and pats his shoulders to show him that he is appreciated.

Yeah, that’s right! I was the one who kept him company all these years, not you! And now, you’re the one left with all his money while I get just a fraction!

“Thank you, Cornelia. It was a pleasure serving your grandfather all these years,” he answers. It would be so much easier for you to disappear so I won’t have to suck up to yet another Wilson before getting what I deserve.

The lawyer continues with his reading the distribution of James’ other assets to his staff. Cornelia can’t help but admire her grandfather for having a heart. He made sure that everyone in his employ gets a part of his toils, for as he said in his will, “You helped me make things possible by serving me and never leaving me as I went through everything I had to go through in life to achieve this.”

After several more minutes, John finished reading the will and took out more papers for Cornelia to sign.

“Now, Miss Wilson, please sign these papers… These documents will show that you are now the new and sole owner of T.W. Merchandising, T.W. European Shipping Lines, and T.W. Corp. All of which are under T.W. Industries and are all situated in Paris, France. He wanted to have his main offices there because he wanted to get into the European market and then circle back to the U.S. markets, which he has started doing a few years back. His accountants and other business lawyers will fill you in with the details. Which means that in the next coming weeks, you will be holding board meetings and conferences with the members of the board in these different investment companies. You will also be getting this house and the one in South Hamptons, I’m sure you’re familiar with that already and as a matter of fact, it is technically under your name ever since James bought it. He thought you might need a different house from this one once you find out that you’re a Wilson. There is also a grand estate in London, England, which I will show you when we visit there in the coming months. And a ranch in Texas. James had a penchant for animals and built this ranch to give all kinds of stray animals a shelter where they are cared for by veterinarians and volunteers.” John pauses and looks at Cornelia’s confused face.

“Of course, you need not be overwhelmed, Miss Wilson. I will assist you all the way as well as other financial advisors James has. Kevin is the best person to have around when you’re travelling outside the country because he’s been to every business trip James had in the past and pretty much knows all of James’ affairs,” he says, patting her hand across the table.

John looks over to Kevin who seems to be deep in thought. “I trust you would be assisting the young lady as well, Kevin? Or do you have other matters you want to discuss. James doesn’t expect you to stay on longer than what is necessary for you since, technically, James, your employer, has passed, meaning you are relieved of your services. I’m sure you can’t complain about the hefty severance pay he has left you, not to mention one of the cars in his garage.” John smiles over at Kevin and ads, “Personally, I like the Jaguar the best,” he winks.

Kevin smiles back but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Oh, yes, I would still offer my services to Miss Wilson,” he responds then looks at Cornelia with a questioning look, “…if she would still have me, that is…” He leaves her to finish the sentence.

“Kevin, of course, I would love for you to stay here and continue working for James,” she replies graciously.

“You mean, for you, Cornelia. I would be working for you now…” he reminds her.

“Oh, yes… I guess that’s right… I’m sorry I still can’t take everything in. I’m still thinking about James and the fact that we are, in fact, family, and now you guys are telling me that I have inherited a billion dollars… It’s just too much for one day…” Cornelia admits as her voice continues to shake until she finished talking.

“It’s actually a couple of billion dollars, 2.2 Billion, to be exact. But don’t stress yourself over understanding all of it in one seating. I completely understand that you are not in the right mindset and emotionally, you are not in your best state… So if you just sign the dotted line over here,” John points to the dotted line above her name, her real name, Cornelia Lewis Wilson – James made sure that it was correctly added after he found her in the streets and set up her first apartment.

She complies without even reading it because she trusts John even if she just met him. James seemed to entrust everything to him and they’ve known each other for years so there is no reason for Cornelia to doubt him.

“Are you sure you’re in the right condition to sign any papers, Cornelia? You said so earlier that you don’t want anything to do with James’ money and would rather donate it to charitable institutions or something?” Kevin asks dubiously, as if making her look like greed has taken her over. “I mean I am all for doing good and all, and I actually like your idea. But here you are, signing on that line to get that 2.2 Billion dollars? What if you change your mind again and just leave it in unsafe hands or something. I’m just saying, you aren’t experienced in handling money, at least not that big amount of cash. Don’t you want to put it in a trust fund or ask for someone to help you oversee it?” he asks, shrugging his shoulders.

Kevin has been acting strangely and Cornelia can’t seem to feel uneasy at the thought of him still staying on as her guide and point person in James’ affairs overseas, but it can’t be helped because there was no one else that close to James. She would have to squash her reservations with his sudden behavior and just account it to it probably being an effect of James passing. Maybe Kevin is still understandable distressed about everything that its affecting how he reacts to the situations unfolding before him.

“I appreciate your concern, Kevin, and it is true that I said I just wanted to give all his money to charity but I didn’t realize that he had so much and that these companies are responsible for hundreds, even thousands of employees. If I just turn them over to be liquidated or broken off and sold to other companies, what would happen to those loyal workers who served him and who continues to serve the company? What would happen to their families who depended on him? Now that he’s gone, am I supposed to just let them all fend off for themselves because I wanted to donate to charitable institutions? No, I have to think a lot of things over. And you are right, I am inexperienced, that is why I need the members of the board and his lawyers and accountants to help me. I want to continue his legacy, especially now that I see the impact he’s had on people and that their livelihood was of great importance to my grandfather.”

John could have clapped right there for Cornelia’s compelling speech about her taking over and claiming her rightful inheritance, but he settles for a toothed grin.

“This just cements our trust in you, Cornelia. You are truly James’ granddaughter, a true Wilson. Now, let us conclude this order of business so you could take your rest at your new house. Your other houses and properties have their own caretakers, whom you can communicate with at all times, to check on those properties.” John hands over the pen and Cornelia signs the documents with renewed determination.

It was true, what she said about her concern for the people who works for James. She wasn’t thinking about the impact of what she intended to do when she told Kevin that she’d rather just donate all of her grandfather’s money. She would still give generously to those in need, especially to orphans such as herself, but she won’t let his legacy die with him. She will learn how to run a business properly and will maintain the kind of services his companies had been giving its customers and clients.

Kevin stares at her and contemplates on how to get back on her good side. For sure she became suspicious of him after he, basically, said she was inadequate to take over her family’s business.

“Look, Cornelia… I didn’t mean what I said about you not able to handle your grandfather’s affairs… It’s just that I’ve been with him for so long that he was the only one I saw fit to be the boss of his own company, you know… I didn’t mean anything by it. I guess, I’m still not used to seeing you as my new boss after so many years of serving Mr. W,” says Kevin, who seems to sound like his old self.

“It’s okay, Kevin. I know that this is going to be a huge adjustment. I am still understanding the gravity of what I am undertaking and I need you more than ever to be on my side as I try to learn the ropes of these companies. As you said, you worked for my grandfather all your life and you know everything there is to know about his regular days and how he conducts his business… please… help me in keeping his legacy alive. I want to continue how he does business and grow it even, when the time comes. It’s not just about the money, Kevin. It’s about my family’s continuance,” she answers with sad eyes.

“Don’t worry, Cornelia, I will be here to give you all the assistance you need. I just had a thought since I am used to calling him that way, may I call you Miss W, as well? That is if it’s okay with you…”

She tries to say it silently and kind of likes the ring of it. It has anonymity and mystery. “I like it. Sure you can call me that. Thank you, Kevin. I don’t know what I would do without you…”

She hugs him lightly and he pats her shoulders to show his support. She lets go of him and tells him that she would like to speak to Barret as well so Kevin sets out to look for him.

Cornelia lets out a huge sigh after Kevin and John left the study. She sits on the reading chair facing the window and leans her head back.

“Do you know what you’re getting into, Cornelia?” she asks herself outloud. Then she outs her hands on her face and massages her temples. She’s been getting headaches again ever since she left Manhattan. Sometimes it got so worse that she felt the need to vomit, which she ends up doing during those times. She thought about going to the doctor but since there were so many stuff to do in the office during the last week, she didn’t get a chance to.

“I must make sure to ask Kevin or Jim if we have a family doctor so I won’t have to go out to get checked. I’m sure the media is going to have a field day when they find out that I am the new owner of the T.W. Industries.”

Barret knocks softly at the door and she gets up to greet him.

“Hi, Barret, please come in. I’m so glad you’re here. I have to tell you something. Do you need some coffee? Tea?” she asks as she ushers her to the table where she talked with John and Kevin earlier.

“No, I’m okay, Cornelia. I had some snacks in the living room earlier. What’s up? How are you holding up?” he asks, sitting down on the comfortable chair.

“I’m… I guess I’m still taking it all in. James had certainly changed my life when I met him and he’s continuously doing so. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, because I am… I truly am… Without him, I’d probably be dead right now. He saved me… And I will forever thank him for that. I miss him terribly, Barret. I’ve never had anyone to talk to and depend on ever since my mom died and now he’s gone too.” Her voice catches in her throat but takes in a deep breath to stop her tears from falling again.

Barret was about to stand up from his chair to go to her but she holds her hand up and shakes her head. “I’m okay, I’m okay. Please sit down, Barret…” she says.

She looks at the man in front of her with admiration and can’t help but feel so lucky to have a friend like him. Yes… he is a friend… She supposes that it’s what they will always be and she’s totally fine with that but wonders if Barret is.

Another time and another circumstance perhaps… she thinks to herself. But try as she may, she thinks about Morrison and where he could be right that very moment. She understands that he didn’t go to the funeral because she told him, the last time they spoke, that she never wanted to see him again… As much as it hurts not seeing him around, she realizes that he’s only respecting her wishes. She was fine with that but couldn’t he send me a short message even if I had pushed him away? No, you can’t expect him to do that anymore, she shakes her head and tries to focus on what she wanted to tell Barret.

Barret sits back down on the chair and nods to Cornelia to go on.

“Alright… So, I just learned to day that I have inherited all of James’ properties including his companies and other assets.”

Barret looks amazed and says, “Wow! That’s awesome, Cornelia. I mean,, of course, it would’ve been better if James were still alive to teach you the ropes and all that stuff, but I’ve kind of figured that you would surely become the sole owner of your family’s fortune. It’s just right, Cornelia. I’m glad for you.”

“Thank you, Barret… Which gave me the idea to make you my financial advisor and maybe a partner for your furniture business… if you’d have me. I know you’ve been looking for an investor to get your business to a wider audience and I am willing to get into that mix with you. I think that your furniture pieces are works of art, as I told you before, they’re really good!” she says excitedly.

Barret remains speechless but his eyes couldn’t disguise his excitement. “Do you really mean that, Cornelia? Wow! I’ve been waiting for a break ever since I started making those pieces and I’m sure glad that you’re giving me a chance with this! This is just great!” he exclaims. He stands up and goes to her to give her a bear hug, which she gladly accepted.

She’s glad that she’s able to bring joy into someone’s life by just helping them do great things. She looks up as Barret hugs her and imagines James and Julie looking down at her, nodding their approval for her first step as the head of her family’s business. She trusts Barret and she knows that having him beside her would only strengthen the companies she was left with and he would help her make more sound decisions such as what she just did.

“Oh Cornelia! You are such a godsend! I’m flattered that you thought of me first. I promise you, I won’t let you down and I gladly accept your offer to be your advisor, although I am sure there are more highly qualified people for the task… Have you considered looking for the most recommended ones first? I mean, I won’t be offended if you changed your mind and choose a better person… I just don’t want you to make quick decisions about this-,” he starts saying but Cornelia stops him by saying,

“No, Barret. I want you by my side. Sure, there might be other people better suited to advise me about money matters but none who really cares about me and what I envision my companies would be. I want to help people, Barret… And you of all people know what I’m talking about. You are the best person to help me on this because you are a good person. Simple as that and I appreciate it if you not doubt your abilities, okay? We are going to be the best team ever to bring change into the world…” she finishes.

He looks at her with admiration and says, “I am so proud of what you have turned out to be Cornelia. I’ve known you for just a short time, close to a year, but everyday I saw you, I saw your good heart and that was what drew me in.” He smiles at her and they both share another laugh with the hope of a new and better tomorrow for the both of them.

 

 

 

Chapter VI

 

Gia arrives at the airport and looks for her private chauffer to pick her up but instead of her chauffer, Linda is there right in front of her with dark shades on and clutching one of her expensive handbags again.

Her private jet travelled the most part of the night so she can reach her destination. James Wilson, of T.W. Industries, passed away just the day before and many have come to pay their respects to the old man who was a major contributor of the European business market. This throng of people includes Gia de Grassi of the de Grassi’s of Europe. She doesn’t know James Wilson personally but her father had been good friends with the man and she used his death as an excuse to go to the US herself and find out the developments of her plot against the McElroys.

 

She heard of the passing of James Wilson just the day before while she was getting ready for her early dinner. She likes her food served before six in the evening, before her workout so when she gets to bed, she would fall asleep right away. She likes to get so tired at the end of the day that it would just knock her to sleep the moment she hits the bed. It keeps her nightmares at bay. She suffers from dreams of her father’s tragic death less frequently now as compared to a few years ago right after Hector died.

“The death of the businessman James T. Wilson has surprised many of his peers and many have sent their condolences to his family and friends. The funeral and burial of his remains remain private and only the closest to the Wilson family is allowed in… Kirk Lind for Manhattan Tonight,” the reporter with a weird mustache signed off from his late night report as Gia clicked off her plasma TV.

She got a hold of her cell phone and called Mike, “Prepare my jet and get ready to fly out in a few hours. I’ll call you back with the details.” She didn’t wait for Mike’s reply and clicked off. It was understood that he make the necessary arrangements for her. It was always like that and it will always be the case as long as he is under her employ.

This is my chance to go there with a good reason. I could get a closer look at the situation and try resolving any damage Mike had done.

She zipped up her dress and got down to the dining hall. She would dine tonight with her casual lover and then spend perhaps half an hour having sex then she would proceed to her private gym where she loved working out until her muscles ached and her mind was clear of all things of that day.

Gia de Grassi has existed like this ever since the great scandal four years ago… It was such a disgrace that many of the investors of her father’s company left and crippled the whole operation of their shipping lines. She underestimated the power and influence Linda had and still have with a lot of people, especially those with political and economic positions in the U.S. as well as some European nations.

She can still taste the bitter taste of being slapped with so many lawsuits regarding the hazards that her management seemed to have done to their workers. Linda had sent out her minions into collecting forced and manipulated testimonies of workers of her company to show that the de Grassi Shipping Lines failed to comply with the several safety regulations and have, in turn, endangered their workers, even causing some accidents with members of the shipping crews. All of these were accidents and not because of neglect of the management but somehow, when they were all in court, mounds of evidence were suddenly produced and even those whom Gia thought were her loyal employees, turned against her and implicated her in knowing the mishaps in her company and the “alleged” violations with employee safety.

After just a few weeks of trial, the de Grassi Shipping Lines were out of business, stripped of its license, and lost all its investors and many companies severed their ties with them.

Gia was left alone, dejected, despised by all her socialite friends, and betrayed by the people she trusted. She locked herself away from the public eye and returned to Tuscany where she plotted against the McElroys. She found out that it was all Linda’s doing after she hired her own investigators and spies and sent them to the US after her exile. She slowly learned that Linda used the information she got from Gia’s attorney and used it to exploit and manipulate the facts regarding the management of the de Grassi Shipping Lines. Within weeks after Linda met with Gia’s lawyer, the lawsuit started and more and more witnesses were coming forward to give their own testimonies. All of which were connived into giving false accounts and claims because they were paid to do so by hefty sums they couldn’t resist and those who did resist were threatened and coerced into doing it for fear that a family member might be put in danger if they did not comply. She came to know all of Linda’s wrongdoing when she had launched her own investigation on who the mastermind of her fall from grace was.

But with all that she found, she couldn’t find a single thread of evidence or paper trail that could implicate Linda and clear her of all the charges of neglect and purposely ignoring the failing standards of her company. Linda was a good liar, manipulator, and thief of a person’s innocence. She used money, influence, and power over small people to get them to do anything she wanted. All of it just because Gia was having an affair with her husband…

Gia also realized then that Nick did nothing about it. He seemed to have forgotten their love affair as soon as he left Paris. He never called once and he never even checked up on her and her supposed business partnership with him. Even with the scandal blowing over, she never heard a peep from him.

She went through hell at the hands of the McElroys and, by God, she vowed to let them feel her wrath and get a taste of their own medicine.

 

At first, Gia was surprised to see Linda there standing in pristine clothes and a cold-hearted smile, then realizes that she shouldn’t expect anything less from the notorious wife of the man she used to love and now hate. She smirks at her as she approaches the glamorously clad woman in front of her.

“Well, I’m honored that you came all the way here to meet me, Mrs. McElroy. To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asks innocently.

“Ha ha ha,” she laughs sarcastically and even gives her a kiss on the cheek, a traitor’s welcome in Linda’s world. “Oh, you know that I couldn’t just let you come here without knowing what you are up to? I know it’s you who’s been orchestrating all these havoc with my husband’s company.” Linda says sweetly through gritted teeth as they make their way to the lobby of the airport.

“Whatever are you talking about, Linda? I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m just here to attend to a funeral of an old family friend, that’s all. Surely you won’t have a problem with that, right? And I don’t really care what you think anyway so you best get off my back bitch or I will run you over with my suitcase,” Gia responds with an equally sweet tone to her voice.

To other people there, the two ladies might appear as if they were having a nice chat about the weather or catching up but the tension between their stares were undeniably palpable.

“Of course, Gia. I am not here to stop you in doing anything you came here for but make no mistake…,” she says with conviction, “Don’t you ever threaten me or my family ever again and you better end this childish suits to my husband or I will answer your threats with real actions. I’m warning you, Gia. Stop what you’re doing until someone gets hurt.”

Gia looks at Linda as if she was dirt in her fingernails, “Uhm, if you’re done, I have to go now and pay my respects. And oh,” she turns back to Linda, “I don’t know what you’re talking about but this I can tell you… You’re only getting what you deserve.”

Linda then lost her composed face and shouts after her, “You bitch! You can’t destroy us just like that! You don’t know who you’re dealing with!”

“YOU don’t know who you’re dealing with! I know you were the one responsible for what happened to me! So don’t act like you’re being wronged and that you’re all innocent about it! You’re only getting what you deserve. You’ve caused do much hate and destruction to your fellow human beings that you don’t deserve to be happy ever again. Just you wait… This is just the beginning, Mrs. McElroy,” Gia spits the words like venom to Linda while she stands there, frozen in her position in the middle of the busy airport lobby.

Gia gets picked up by a limousine and drove off into the early morning light.

Oh God! What do I do now? I can see in her eyes that she means every word… I must tell Nick… It can’t be helped…

Linda calls for her driver and in a few minutes, she gets into the black sedan.

“Drive to Nick’s office right away, Jack,” she tells her driver as he nods at her instruction.

They reach the Manhattan office of McElroy and Burns and Linda gets off the car as soon as it stopped in front of the entrance doors. She puts one foot after another and as she does so, she feels the dread come over her. She’s been keeping this secret from her husband for the most part of the last four years and now, it has come to bite them in the ass.

“Linda, what brings you around?” Nick asks, looking up from his laptop and ushering her inside. “Are you okay? Do you need something?”

She shakes her head and sits on the chair across from his table.

“No. I’m alright, Nick. I came here to discuss a very serious matter… So if you have anything to do or anywhere to go in the next hour or two, you would have to cancel it because we have to talk about this right now.” Linda’s voice was filled with firm resolve and her attitude is not going to let him refuse her request. No, it wasn’t delivered as a request, but an order.

“Okay, I’m all ears. Tell me,” he responds, closing his laptop to listen to his wife. There has been a few times that Linda walked into a room with that kind of attitude and disposition. And all of those times turned out to be serious discussions indeed and they ended up making sound and wise decisions about their businesses and companies after every serious talk they’ve had.

“Do you remember the de Grassi Shipping Lines?” Gia de Grassi specifically?” she asks.

Nick’s face gradually changes from being curious to an expression showing that he got a little bit disturbed by what she said. His brows drew together as soon as Linda mentioned Gia’s name. It’s been a long time since someone actually said her name outloud.

He still remembers her face. The image of her smiling face while looking graceful and elegant in her red dress as she came down to one of their arranged diners about four years ago, stuck to his mind and that’s how he pictures her now. Then he recalls that Linda came to Paris all of a sudden and actually met with Gia thinking that she was a potential business partner. Then everything went South after Linda took care of the technicalities of the partnership. He wasn’t sure if it was just the worst timing but Gia was found to be neglectful of her company workers’ safety and failed some safety regulations that are in place in all kinds of businesses. Linda was the one who told him that it would be best for Missions Bank and for the whole of the company to drop Gia de Grassi and not take her offered investment. Nick couldn’t do anything because Linda decided to drop the bomb on them when they were in one of the board meetings so the whole board voted unanimously to discontinue ties with the de Grassi’s. He was only able to say goodbye to Gia during the said diner they had with Linda. He didn’t get a chance to talk to her after that because Linda had stayed with him during the remaining days of the convention in Paris plus she was always around that he couldn’t even make a single phone call to Gia. He decided to let it go and assumed that Gia had taken the hint and avoided him altogether but he didn’t know that Linda had been screening his calls through Michaela, his secretary, and instructed her not to let any calls from Gia de Grassi through as well as emails and other types of correspondence.

He saw how the media and other business sectors broke down Gia’s company and destroyed her credibility. He wanted to reach out to her then and offer his help but his hands were tied behind his back by the board members of his companies. They have advised him not to show any support to any business with any negative reputation, most especially those who were sued for serious matters such as neglect leading to unwarranted injuries and millions of worth of damages that would definitely be collected by the European government.

So as the years flew by, he forgot all about Paris and Gia de Grassi. It was a decision he made to forget about her because he realized that he couldn’t compromise the relationship he has with his wife and his reputation as a family man. His image was all he had and Linda’s money and influence has helped him get through the toughest times in his life. She never left his side and he owes her his success.

“Yeah, I remember her. She was supposed to do business with us, right? I can’t really see why there is a need to discuss her. What is this all about, Linda?” he asks, sounding a little bit defensive. He doesn’t want any old skeletons to come creeping back into his life so he feels uncomfortable about the whole thing.

“Because you know as well as I do that you had your European tryst with her more than four year ago when you went to that business convention in Paris,” she says nonchalantly as if it was public knowledge that she knows about his affair.

“Wh-what are you talking about? Me and Gia?” he tries to deny the fact but the look she’s giving him tells him that it would be a waste of time to lie to her.

Shit! Might as well admit it. It’s been years ago anyway… And she’s kept it all these years without telling me or confronting me… Why bring it up now?

“Cut the bullshit, Nick. I’ve put up with all your lies and affairs all these years, even with Julie being all the way in Jersey and your long lost daughter,” she smirks. “I know more than you do, Nick McElroy but U have kept it all these years because I don’t think it’s worth bringing it all up and digging up all these years of heart ache. So save your feigned innocence and face me now. I don’t care what you’ve done before but I have to tell you that our enemy… the one who’s been causing this entire ruckus with the law and the upset of our company security, is none other than your ex-girlfriend, Gia de Grassi. And that’s not even the worst news you’ll have today because she just arrived at the airport half an hour ago. She has come to destroy us at close range and she’s not letting up, Nick. We have to face her and pacify her for her mislead hatred towards us…” Linda finishes, leaving out the part that she was, in fact, the sole reason, why Gia hates their family, and is bent on crushing their legacy down to the ground.

It takes a few minutes for Nick to respond, and when he finally answers, “Why would she cause this? What have we done to her or her family to deserve her wrath that she would go so far as to drag us to a made-up lawsuit and go through the painstaking task of setting up a fake offshore account, not to mention, how she got connections to pin all of this made up allegations to us?”

Linda sighs and decides to tell him everything so they can both think of the best solution.

“Nick… I have something to tell you but you have to keep in mind that it was something I did out of love for you and our family. You know that I would do anything to keep our family in tact and when I see that it is being threatened in some way, even if it was because of your own doing, I wouldn’t hesitate in stepping in and fixing it in any way I could…,” was her opening statement.

“What did you do, Linda?” he asks, realizing that Linda might have done something irreparable. She always poked her head in his business ever since they got married but he always allowed her some form of control because of her family’s money and influence. She was an advantage when it came to his businesses. But they don’t always go as planned when Linda was in-charge of something.

“I… I kind of manipulated the lawsuit against her before… The one that ended her business about four years ago,” she says. She had the decency to look somewhat guilty for what she had done.

“What! What do you mean you manipulated the lawsuit? Did you fabricate that whole negligence issue?” Nick feels his face go red from the shock of knowing that his wife was even capable of pulling that kind of large scale lie.

“Yes!” she exclaims as she leans forward in her chair. “And its all because of you, you bastard! Don’t lie to my face and deny that you never had an affair with the slut! I know everything! I’ve known every single affair you’ve had Nick and what did I do about it? Instead of confronting you and feeling sorry for myself, I took my revenge!”

Linda’s eyes were ablaze and Nick couldn’t answer for a few minutes.

“You’re right, Linda… I’m sorry for putting you through my shit. I… I never wanted to hurt you but I swear, after Gia, there was no one else I had an affair with. I stopped because I realized that I couldn’t take it if you left me… Please… I’m sorry, Linda,” Nick says as he comes around the table and kneels in front of her.

He takes both of her hands into his and looks directly into her eyes. “But you have to tell me what you did. What did you do in all that happened to her? How do you know that she came here? Did you see her? Did she admit to have orchestrated the whole money laundering shit we’re facing?” Nick asks without waiting for her reply. He has so many thoughts about the situation. It only confirms his suspicion about the name Angela de Grassi that he saw on the list of accounts written on the evidence they were going to use in court to give them leverage on the case.

“I did the whole thing, Nick. I coerced those witnesses into lying in court to make sure that Gia de Grassi falls from her pedestal and never get up there again. I was filled with so much hatred then, Nick. Because of your whole affair! I was so mad at you but I was more mad at her because she knew that you are a married man but it didn’t stop her from snatching you up with her charms and money. So I orchestrated a plan to get back at her using the very information that her lawyer gave me when she thought she was getting into business with you. The rest was history. I pulled a lot of strings and forced lots of people to do things against their will just so I could exact my revenge on the woman that caught your eye.” Linda recalls how ruthless and manipulative she was just several years ago. She never cared if she hurt anybody as long as she gets what she wants…

But it all changed when they started having problems with the lawsuit and that Morrison was getting caught in the middle of it, indirectly through the girl he likes. She hasn’t even met the girl but when she held Morrison’s birthday earlier that month, she noticed that her son was smitten and even if he enjoyed the company of Susan’s daughter, he still sought that girl at the end of the night. She thought to herself that maybe she should meet that girl soon but with all that’s been happening, she hasn’t found time to arrange a meeting, much less launch an investigation on her.

“Oh, Linda… I’m sorry to have put you through all my shit before. But right now, we have a major problem. I must talk to her and explain everything. She might think that I was aware of what you did to her and maybe that’s why her hatred got even worse. Don’t think that I want to get back to her or anything, I just want to save our company, our life’s work! Where did you see her exactly? Has she contacted you before? Oh, God! She’s the one who had Cornelia abducted… If she could do that, God knows what else she may be capable of!” Nick stands from his kneeling position on the floor and starts pacing.

“She called me before, just a few days ago, telling me that she would bring our family down… Then I saw her at the airport just less than an hour ago… I heard about James Wilson’s death and I assumed that she would use that to come here because I remember that when I looked into her history, her father was good friends with James Wilson and even had business together… Mr. Wilson is the owner of T.W. Industries, which I am sure you already know because he was the same James Wilson who kicked you out of  his house twenty years ago, when you tried looking for his daughter, Julie,” Linda says with all seriousness. She doesn’t sound angry or hurt, just tired from dealing with Nick’s past that has now come back to haunt them both.

Nick is silent. He stares out the window of his office, into the busy streets of Manhattan below. It’s still early in the morning. He actually just arrived in his office a few minutes ago before Linda came barging in unannounced.

“James… I didn’t know he died… When did he die? How?” he asks, not caring if Linda would be angry. Eventhough James had refused him so many times before and never trusted him, he had immense respect for the man who just wanted to do what was best for his daughter. Poor man. He never even had the chance to reconcile with Julie and to meet his granddaughter…

Oh, Julie… I’m sorry. I’m sorry that until now, I still have not found our daughter… I will make sure to go to your father’s funeral to honor him… I wish we could have met at a different time and under much different circumstances…

“I just saw it in the news. They’re making it private though. The details were not disclosed. Are you thinking of going to the funeral?” she asks, not really worried that he would see Gia there. She actually wants them to meet and talk about what happened so that this whole fiasco would finally end. She’s not willing to bow down to that woman but she will do anything to save her family… even if it meant her going to jail for it. She figured that she had already enjoyed a full life and she had nothing else to prove to herself or her family so if Gia wants her to go to jail for retribution then so be it…

“I don’t know what to do yet. I must talk to her though so she would just drop all of this. It’s time to end all these grudges. I’m so tired of doing this. After this mess, I swear to God, I will finally retire and just spend my days lounging around in the house… with my lovely wife…” he walks back to her and hugs her. They’ve both been through a lot and no matter how cruel and unjust they were to each other and to other people, they stayed together all through the years. And to Nick, that’s what marriage was all about.

“Nick. I don’t think she’s going to simply let us off the hook just like that. She’s looking to spill blood and I know for sure that she’s looking out to get mine. I’m ready for whatever she wants to do with me as long as she leaves you and Morrison alone for good. I am willing to make that sacrifice for your sakes. I’m tired too and if this is what it takes for her to stop, I’d gladly walk into that jail cell and admit everything she accuses me of,” she says with so much conviction in her voice.

Don’t think that way, Linda. I’m sure this would all end and it’s not going to be you walking into a jail cell. Not if I had anything to say about it. I’m not proud of what you’ve done to another human being but I also know that you only did those acts because you love me and don’t want to lose me. So I am with you all the way… No matter what happens, I’m not going to let you go to jail. Do you hear me?” He takes her in his arms again and squeezes her lightly.

Even at past sixty years old, both of them still look no more than fifty and as they held on to each other, it opened them up to be close to each other and it dawned on them that they could finally trust each other completely.

 

Gia walks in her hotel room and takes a long shower. The notice said that the funeral was going to be at nine in the morning so she has about three hours more. If she takes her jet to Buffalo, it might still take her a while but she has no intention of even going to the funeral anyway. She’ll just arrange some flowers to be sent over. She just needed a way to get into New York without so much fuss.

She relaxes for a few minutes after her long shower, sipping wine on the terrace of her hotel suite, looking out into the busy streets of the city. She wonders what Nick was doing and if his wife already told him of her arrival.

“You better be prepared Nick. Now, we will dance and see who comes up on top. Now, I’ll have a chance to look into your eyes and see how black your soul is before you see your whole crumble before your eyes.” She laughs to herself and takes another swig of her wine.

She doesn’t care about the documents anymore. Even if he uses it in court, it’s just going to be a small portion of what the jury will base their judgement on. She has lots more in her arsenal and she will use them all… even if someone needs to get hurt. She doesn’t care anymore…

“Father… I’m not proud of what I am doing but I cannot just let it pass that everything you have worked for just vanished because of a woman’s spiteful act to contain her husband. I will get out revenge and you will see your legacy rise again. I swear to you!” she says with anger in her voice.

She calms down a little and allows herself to think about what really pushes her to continue with her plan. She has never had anybody else like Nick in her life… and he was taken away from her just like that… But his promises were blown away with the wind because obviously he never really cared about her as she found out in the worst way possible. She wanted to know why. Why did he leave her at the mercy of those who wanted to destroy her? Was she that insignificant that he couldn’t even make a single phone call? Didn’t what they shared in Paris mean anything to him? Or was he just being a guy who needed a warm bed for the nights he was away from his wife? How cruel could he be to toy around with her emotions and just let his wife throw her under the bus?

She throws her glass across the room and it smashes as it hit the wall and lands in pieces on the ground.

“No! He won’t get away with it! He will pay for leaving me high and dry!”

And with that, she returns inside the room and curls up in her bed, cringing at the thought of possibly having another nightmare about her father.

 

 

 

Chapter VII

 

The next morning, no one knew that it was going to be a day full of a series of events that could very well change all their lives.

 

The day started out with Nick getting the details to the funeral through a friend because for sure, he wasn’t a friend of the Wilson family. He got there about an hour late so he went to James’ home straight from the airport. He was sure before he even got in the plane that he would eventually be laid rest in his ancestral home in Buffalo. It was the same house Julie grew up and the last time he saw the massive house was around twenty years ago, when he banged on the gates over and over to see Julie but all he got was James’ angry response.

As he stopped his car in front of those very same gates, he was reminded of Julie and how it was between them so many years ago.

“Ah, Julie… How I wish that I have found our daughter and brought her back to this house and tell her that this was your favorite place on earth…,” he said to himself as the gates opened and he was let in.

He tried his best to conceal himself and not get spotted because he was already very late and he didn’t want Gia to catch wind of him being there. But after searching for half an hour, she was nowhere to be found.

Maybe this was just a ruse. She never had any intentions coming here. So that means…

He realized that he just fell into Gia’s trap and was about to go out of the door and back to his car when he spotted Cornelia coming out of the room beside the living room where the guests were chatting and having some coffee.

What is she doing here? I thought she was with Morrison back in the Hamptons? Maybe she went with a friend to attend James’ funeral? I better say “Hi”

Nick strolls over to her but then he overheard someone call her name.

“So, Cornelia Lewis Wilson, what do you intend to do next?” Barret said to her as they were coming out of the study.

She felt like a lot of dead weight was lifted off her shoulders and all she wanted now was to somehow get rid of all the people there and just explore the house where her mother and grandfather lived. She was excited to touch the paintings on the walls and look at the many photographs that lines the book cases and tables around the house.

“I just want to have some rest and then probably talk to Jim about the arrangement of the house and how to basically find everything I need in this huge place. Would you please stay? Even for just one night… I- I just don’t want to spend the night alone here. I’m not scared of ghosts or anything,- I actually want to see my mother’s ghost if she was to show herself- I just… I don’t want to stay here without someone I can fully trust…,” she finished saying.

Not that she imagined herself to be in any danger or anything but it was comforting to see a familiar face in that place apart from the ones who serve there.

Barret looked at her and smiled while tousling her hair a bit, “Of course, kiddo! I’ll stay here with you as long as you like. I want to see the rest of this place. It’s huge!” he exclaimed and then covered his mouth because his voice was a little loud than what he expected it to be.

“Shhh… Don’t get too excited. You know what? I am too!” she said and they shared another smile.

Her face suddenly turned serious and whispered, “I wish James and mother could see me now… I wish I could tell them that I am finally home…”

Barret takes her in his arms again and kisses the top of her head like she was his little sister. “I am one hundred percent positive that they are looking down on you at this very moment and nodding their heads in approval. You’ve done so well, Cornelia. They must be very proud of how strong you’ve become. We all are. So don’t be sad anymore. You are home and you have the means to make other kids’ wishes of a home come true as well. I’m so glad you’ve decided to give to charity and especially to orphanages. Those lost kids need all the help they could get.”

They exit the living room and went to the gardens. Nick was left there standing rooted to his spot near the study. He overheard everything they talked about and was just realizing what it meant.

C-Cornelia is a Wilson… She’s James’ grandchild… So that means… Cornelia Masters, the secretary who worked in my office actually Cornelia Lewis Wilson, the one and only granddaughter of Mr. James Tudor Wilson of T.W. Industries… and she’s my daughter…

The truth of the situation hit him like a bullet and he was left paralyzed where he stood. They didn’t see him or notice him as he was partly concealed by the big column that was holding up the ceiling of the massive living room.

His mind was reeling and he needed to sit to steady himself or else he would just collapse. He backed out of the room and found a door leading outside, to the fresh morning air. It led him to the terrace looking out towards the mausoleum, where James was buried only an hour ago.

Why didn’t you tell me James? Why didn’t she tell me? I’m sure she has known long ago that I am her father, right? Why… Why didn’t anybody tell me?

He sucked in air long and hard, feeling something hurt on the right side of his body. He thought it was because of fatigue or lack of sleep so he didn’t pay any mind to it and got out of there as soon as he could. He couldn’t face his daughter at that very moment. He didn’t know what to say and how to explain the circumstances of her mother, Julie’s, and his relationship before.

He puts his car in reverse and drove out of the parking lot, still distracted from what he came to know. What was most disconcerting was that Morrison loves Cornelia. He didn’t have to pry his own son to find out. The moment he saw the pretty girl in his office, the poor boy was smitten and he went out of his way to get her, not to mention his latest near-death experience saving Cornelia from those thugs who were supposedly sent by Gia.

And Gia… does she know that Cornelia is my lost daughter? I never mentioned that fact to her or anybody, just Linda… Oh God, I hope she doesn’t know about her or else she might use her to lure me into making a mistake that could potentially hurt my case…

He got his phone and decided to call Morrison to know if he knew about Cornelia and their connection.

“Yes, dad. What is it?” was Morrison’s curt reply. He was driving himself, away from the crematorium where he left just half an hour ago after he saw Cornelia and Barret hugging in the chapel.

“Morrison, where are you right now? I need to talk to you. It’s urgent,” was Nick’s next words. He sounded panicked and distracted which caught Morrison’s attention.

“What’s the matter Dad? I’m currently driving. I- ah-,” he didn’t inform his father that he was in Buffalo because of the funeral of Cornelia’s friend. He never really disclosed anything to his dad about their whereabouts in the last few days since they were keeping everything at low volume just in case their enemies gets wind of where they were.

He shook his head and thought he might as well tell him since it seemed that he had something important to say.

“I’m actually in Buffalo. Cornelia’s friend, the one who gave us a safe place to stay in the Hamptons… He died yesterday and its his funeral today-,” he was saying when his father cut him off and said,

“I’m here too! Meet me at the big gas station near the crematorium… Do you know what I’m talking about?” his father asked urgently. His voice sounded more forced and Morrison could hear his labored breathing.

“Yes, passed it about fifteen minutes ago… What are you doing here? Wait, I’m turning back now,” he held his phone with one hand as he steered the car.

When he placed his phone back on his ear but couldn’t hear his father anymore. Instead, he heard the constant sound of the car horn like someone had landed on it and it got stuck.

“Dad? Dad! Hello! Answer me, dad!” he shouted over the blaring of the horn.

He felt a cold sweat run down his neck and knew that something bad had happened to Nick. He stepped on the gas and raced towards the crematorium. After five minutes of manic driving, he found his father’s car that was wedged between two trees on the side of the road.

“Dad!” he screamed as he stepped hard on the brakes and almost jumped out of his car. He raced towards the already smoking, frantic to get his father out for fear that the car might explode with Nick still inside.

He was still holding his phone and quickly dialed 911 as he ran to the wreckage. The car was almost unrecognizable. It was one of the service vehicles from the airport. He wondered why his father had taken such a car when he could have had his personal car flown with him as he normally does when he travelled. But it was something he didn’t bother thinking about at the time. All he wanted was to get his father safely out of the car and to see him breathing and okay.

“Hello, yes, please help! My father just had a car accident. I am approaching his vehicle now. We are on the side on the side of the road… Oh, God, please be alright dad!” he said in between breaths.

The operator got the location and promised to have send help as soon as she could.

Morrison dropped his phone and yanked the door open with his bare hands. It was hot from the flames that have suddenly engulfed the hood of the car and was quickly creeping towards the driver’s side.

“Dad! Hold on. I’ll get you out of here!” he shouted over the sound of the horn. He could see Nick slumped over the steering wheel and his chest was pressed on the horn. His chair was moved a few inches towards the front of the car due to the impact of the collision.

Morrison yanked the car seat backwards to make room, freeing his father from being wedged in between the wheel and the seat. There was blood all over Nick’s face but he was breathing, albeit faintly. He could hear the sirens from a distance and was thankful that help was only a few minutes away.

He removed the seatbelt and pushed the airbag away in order to haul Nick out of the car. He successfully got Nick out of the burning vehicle and dragged him to safety in the middle of the road as a firetruck emerged from the curb in the road just a few feet away.

Morrison had inhaled a lot of smoke and was coughing uncontrollably when the paramedics got to him.

“I-I’m okay… Please help my father,” he coughed and pointed to Nick who was still unconscious on the pavement. Then as soon as he saw them hover over Nick, he let himself black out and the next thing he remembered was the white hospital walls that greeted him when he opened his eyes.

He was dreaming then of Cornelia whispering something to him as he lay on the ground. He tried to recall what else was in the dream but it quickly slipped his mind. He wanted to go back to sleep to find out what Cornelia said and to possibly continue the dream into something good like them getting back together, but as with all dreams, it was all in his head.

“Wh-where am I?” he said in a haggard voice to the nurse who had her back to him.

She turned around, pressed a button to alert the doctor, and came closer to him to adjust his pillows as he started getting up in bed.

“Please take it easy, Mr. McElroy. You just had a bad fall yesterday, please don’t move too much,” said the nurse.

The doctor came in and greeted him then Linda came rushing in with a relieved expression on her face.

“Oh, Morrison! Thank God you’re all right, son!” she exclaimed then hugged him tight like he was the same little boy she used to hug often.

“Yeah, ma, I’m okay… H-how is dad?” he said realizing that his dad had an accident and that was the reason why they were in the hospital in the first place.

Linda’s face changed and then she cried, “Your father is still in a coma… He hasn’t woken up yet…,” she hugged her son again as she cried for her husband.

Morrison couldn’t speak right away. He didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t imagine Nick being in a coma… He was always so fit and healthy even with his age. It’s hard to picture him stuck in a hospital bed.

He cleared his throat as Linda drew away from him. “H-how long h-have I been out? Wh-what did the doctors say about his condition? Is he going to be okay?” he asked looking anxiously at the doctor who came there first. He didn’t know anybody who ever went into a comatose state so he didn’t rightly know the implications but he knew enough to conclude that it’s a very serious situation and if his father doesn’t wake up…

No! I can’t think that way! I have to be strong for mother…

He looked at Linda’s tear-streaked face and told himself not to show weakness in front of her.

The doctor spoke up and told him that he was brought to that hospital the day before along with his father and they operated on Nick right away. He had a broken leg and a nasty wound on the head possibly when he hit the airbag. His right arm was also broken in two places and he had internal bleeding but they were able to prevent it from spreading and stopped the bleeding before it got even worse.

He, on the other hand, just had a minor head injury when he hit his head on the pavement after he passed out from lack of oxygen and from inhaling lots of smoke from the burning car.

“You were very lucky, Mr. McElroy. If you waited or hesitated for just a single minute when you were getting your dad out of the car, he would’ve suffocated from the smoke or bled to death. Luckily, we were able to replace most of the blood lost but he’s still out and we can’t do anything else until he wakes up, except to cure his other wounds. Once the tests come back this afternoon and we see that everything seems to be all right, then you can be released in time for your diner. Now, if you’ll both excuse me, I need to make other rounds. Take care Morrison. Mrs. McElroy,” he said, nodding his head.

“Thank you doctor,” said Morrison who was still trying to digest what the doctor said.

“Thank you, Dr. Hudson. Please let us know if there is any other news about Nick’s condition.” Linda dabbed her eyes and closed the door after Dr. Hudson left.

She turned to Morrison and asked what business he had in those parts. “I was so shocked to know that you were here too. I thought you were back in New York and resting. Whatever happened to that girlfriend of yours who got kidnapped. Thank heavens you are okay. To think that bullets were flying all over you during that ordeal! Thank the heavens you got out of there alive!” she exclaimed, dabbing her eyes again but only made her mascara spread even more around her eyes. She looked her age at that moment and Morrison realized that his parents really were getting old. Seeing his mother look that way reminded him that life can just pass you by in minutes.

“How did you know that there were gunfire involved?“ he asked suddenly understanding what she said.

“Oh, your father told me about it after he knew what transpired in that dock. You can’t really believe that your father would just let you go to a very dangerous situation without keeping an eye on you, can you? He was worried about you and sent some of his men to make sure you were unharmed. If that would have happened, they would have stepped in and extracted you from there. But as it turned out, you had some help too so it didn’t have to end so bloody.” Linda sat on the chair next to her son’s bed and held his hand. “Please don’t get mad at your dad for the things you and your lady friend got dragged into…,” she said, deciding to come clean to his son as well.

Morrison remained silent because he felt that his mother had something else to say.

“What is it mother?” he asked when Linda didn’t speak for a few minutes as well.

“Morrison, its not your father’s fault that we’re going through all these problems… It’s mine. You see…,” she started telling him the truth and continued to tell him what she had done to Gia de Grassi, which caused the woman to seek retribution by causing harm to them.

Their conversation stretched on for hours with Linda not being able to stop when she got started. For the past few weeks, she had the sudden need to get those things out of her chest as if she knew that she had to make amends for the wrongs she had done to other people for she felt that karma was just around the corner and her time for getting the short end of the stick was coming. At least she’s trying to make amends. And the first step for her to make things right was to talk about it.

Mother and son talked and shared moments that would always be with them forever. Morrison finally got a chance to know the other side of the mother he always loved and admired and, at first, he felt mad at her, but then realized that everybody makes mistakes. As long as that person has realized that those acts were wrong and was asking for forgiveness, he or she deserves a second chance… And that’s what he gave to her mother. A second chance to right all the wrongs she made.

Linda felt so relieved after she told her son about what she did to Gia. She told him everything. The way she manipulated numerous people, coercing them to lie and to break the law, the scandal she had concocted, and finally, the downfall of the young woman that Nick had an affair with.

“I know I’m a bad person… but I am willing to pay for my sins. You and your father do not deserve to be punished for what I have done years ago… I’m so sorry Morrison,” she sobbed, her shoulders wracking as she continued to cry.

He couldn’t take seeing his mother crying and beaten down. He always saw her with her head held high and that air confidence seamlessly being emitted from her very presence. But she was a different woman as she cried beside his bed.

He held his mother’s hands and kissed the top of her head, “Please, mother… Stop crying. You don’t need to ask for my forgiveness. You were hurt because dad had an affair. I would feel the same way if anyone betrayed me… Please don’t think that I despise you because of what you did… I understand why you did it, mother.”

She smiled up at him and thanked him for being such a good son. But she left out another secret, which she had buried a long time ago… She never thought that it would rise up and loom over their lives one more time…

After he was discharged from the hospital, Morrison and Linda decided to move Nick to New York, to a hospital near their home where the family physicians can look after Nick. It was also because they needed to proceed to taking care of the case that was still on going. Despite the fact that Nick is now in a coma, Morrison still needs to meet with their lawyers and come up with a plan about their newly-acquired information about Gia de Grassi.

 

That was a week ago. Now as Morrison wakes up in the middle of the night with cold sweat running down his back, he shakes his head to ward off the nightmare he had.

“Shit!” he exclaims, noticing that he wasn’t in his own bed in his pad and it was two o’clock in the morning. “I fuckin’ overslept again. Damn it!”

He quickly scrambles to his feet but takes a long gulp of the water next to the sofa where he slept in. He’s been sleeping in his office sofa for a week now. Not being able to sleep in his pad for long periods of time, he decided to take up partial residency in his Manhattan office and it was also to be closer to the hospital where his father is still in a coma. And its been going along just fine until his mother threatened to throw him out of his office if he doesn’t go home and get a decent night’s sleep and a proper shower. He’s been driving himself to the ground with work and it’s been bothering his mother, especially because Nick is still not out of the woods yet.

But Morrison likes the distraction. He craves for it. He likes being so tired at the end of the day that all he could do was drop to his bed or any soft surface at close proximity once his fatigue takes over.

“Son, you have to take care of yourself. You’re a grown man but you’re acting like someone who is trying so hard to distract himself from the truth that it just tires you out and is making all of us miserable. Your father is not okay as it is and now, you’re making it even worse for all of us. If you have any sense and any concern about your father and I, you will stop this and go home to a proper bed like a normal human being!” Linda exclaimed at him after paying her son another visit in his office.

They’ve had a closer relationship ever since the ordeal with Gia started and since Nick had his accident. It was over a week ago but he still doesn’t exactly know the details of what transpired that day. It was the day that James was laid to rest in his Buffalo home and the day that he had a conversation with his mother that he would never forget for it was the first time that he saw her in a different light.

He switches the light on and looks for his phone, which is wedged in between the pillows of the couch. He unlocks it and sees the four missed calls from his mother and one from a number he doesn’t recognize.

He grabs his suitcase and car keys and proceeds to the lobby downstairs. He decides to go home and shower quickly before he sets out again, this time to a lead that one of the investigators saw in the documents.

As he drives across the still-crowded streets of Manhattan towards his apartment, he looks forward to uncovering the new lead that they’ve uncovered.

Gia de Grassi had left the country only a day before, as his sources told him, but it baffles him that she had left all of a sudden after staying here for nearly a week. She hadn’t made any move since she got here and it seemed that she just stayed in her hotel room most of the time, just going out to dinner and she actually had some shopping done. But she didn’t seem to have any suspicious activity, which made it even more suspicious for Morrison so he never let up and trailed her wherever she went.

Then the private investigator told him the day before that Gia had gone out to dinner in a yacht with a very beautiful lady. Then the next thing they knew, Gia had her jet prepared the next day and flew back to Tuscany. Then his lawyers informed him later that night that there have been some development with the case and its looking like the prosecutors have sent a request to dismiss the case due to the fact that the witnesses who were supposed to testify could not be contacted anymore.

“We’re not sure if this is a trap, Morrison, but if its not, that would mean that the case is going to be a bust. Nick McElroy and the Missions Bank would be off the hook! Well, its what we’re all hoping for… for the truth to finally come out, but don’t let your guard down just yet,” said the lead lawyer who is in-charge of the money laundering case against Nick.

“Yes, let’s hope that it turns out that way. But I’m curious why she left all of a sudden. She seemed to have a merry good time seeing her entire plan pan out… Why the sudden change?” he replied, which was more of a rhetorical question.

He reaches his apartment and takes a five minute shower, then was out again in just fifteen minutes. He drives to the location that the P.I. gave him and ended up near Cornelia’s old neighborhood.

It’s been a week since he last saw her in Buffalo… She was leaning her head on Barret’s shoulder and they were sharing an intimate moment. Morrison got so angry that he left without even paying his respects to James. One thing that he still regrets a week after, but vowed to go back someday and thank the old man.

But he now thinks of Cornelia. He stops at the park where he first met her, where he nearly ran over her with his bike. Those pair of eyes of hers were the most beautiful ones he had ever seen and he longs to look into those eyes again and tell her that he still loves her. He was mad back in Buffalo, but he realized that it wouldn’t do him any good if he seeks revenge by sleeping around and date hundreds of girls just to show her that he could have anybody he wanted. That wasn’t him at all… and he doesn’t want her to think that he was that shallow.

He gets out of his car and goes inside the park. Even at two-thirty in the morning, the park still had some lights on but it was deserted. Except for one solitary figure sitting on one of the benches facing the open field.

Her hair is lose and not bound by her usual ponytail. Her face looks straight at the expanse of the park as if it was the middle of the day.

She went to the park on a whim because she couldn’t sleep. She’s been staying in her old apartment for three days now. After settling her affairs in Buffalo and after making sure that James’ funeral was done the way she wanted to.

She looks up at the star-lit skies and looks at the bright stars above.

“I know you’re shining down on me, mom. I miss you… I miss you and grandpa. I wish we had more time with each other… All those years of hate and pride were all wasted years… If only…,” her voice catches in her throat and she fights the urge to cry. “But that’s the past… I’m happier now that I know you’re both resting and are finally together. I would gladly go there as well but I feel that I am needed here. I want to make a difference and I want to do some changes in my life.”

Morrison hears every single word she said and his heart leaps in bounds. He wants to run to her and hug her tight until they both couldn’t breathe. He wants to shower her with kisses and tell her over and over that he loves her and wants to be with her. He wants her to forgive him and to agree to start over… he wants… he wants to simply look into her eyes and not see hatred but a smile…

But he holds himself back, knowing that she needed her privacy. She has been through a lot and she needs her space. He decides to walk away and leave her alone for a while.

He figures he’ll have plenty of time to woo her if she had indeed come back to Brooklyn. He wonders if she would be looking for a job or if she would go back to the office.

Has she heard about Nick’s accident? If so, she probably didn’t want to ask him about it because she might still be mad at him…, he thinks as he walks back to his car and reluctantly drives on.

He went there to investigate on a person that his P.I. told him about. The woman that Gia had dinner with was last spotted in that area as per his source. It didn’t actually make sense for Morrison to go there at the wee hours of the morning but he wanted to drive by Cornelia’s apartment like what he’s always done since he got home. Investigating on the mysterious lady was just his lame excuse to himself to yet again, drive by the familiar street where he first met her…

He then decides to drive back to his office and await for any update from his lawyers about the dismissal of the case.

 

 

 

 

Chapter VIII

 

“I need to go to Morrison! He needs me, Barret!” she exclaims as she heard about the accident that happened just a few minutes ago near the crematorium.

Jim told them that there was a car accident in the road leading to town and that Nick McElroy and his son, Morrison, were involved. He wasn’t clear on the details yet but he was sure that the two were airlifted to the nearest hospital to seek medical help.

“Okay, no problem. We’ll go there. I’ll drive you. But you have to remember that they don’t know that you’re James’ granddaughter… that you are Nick’s biological daughter and Morrison’s step-sister… Are you sure you want to break the news to them at this time?” Barret gathers his jacket and walks towards the door.

Cornelia was just behind him but as soon as he mentioned the fact that the situation is complicated, she stopped in her tracks.

“You’re  right, Barret… But I want to know how they are… Despite everything that’s happened, Nick is still my father and I still love Morrison even if he is Nick’s adopted son… I am not ashamed to admit that I love Morrison because I knew him even before I knew myself and nothing is going to change how I feel about him. Please, Barret, take me to them. I swear, I won’t let myself be seen,” she pleads, walking closer to him and clutching his arm.

Barret sighs but nods. “Come on, we’ll take my car.”

They drive towards the hospital where the pair was taken and Cornelia gets off the car even before Barret turned off the engine.

She rushes inside and asks the nurse sitting on the information section about the victims of the accident near the crematorium. There was only one crematorium in town so the nurse immediately told them that the older person was rushed to the operating room for an emergency surgery but the  younger one was in the emergency room, awaiting for his room to be prepared.

“Thank you, nurse,” she says then rushes towards the emergency room with Barret close to her heels.

“Slow down, Cornelia. We can’t have you slipping and breaking your skull in here,” he hisses as she continues to run towards the room.

When she sees him, her heart threatened to break into a million pieces. Some parts of his face were blackened because of the smoke and his clothes looks tattered and dirty. Dried up blood is still evident on the side of his face and he is unconscious with an oxygen mask on his face.

She rushes to him and hugs him to her. “Morrison… Please be okay… I’m sorry for being such a stubborn, naïve girl… I will stop feeling mad you as long as you open your eyes and look at me… please…” she sobs as Barret gets her to her feet and prying her away from him.

“Cornelia, you promised you would stay away from him, people are looking… They might recognize you. We agreed that you’d lay low for a while… this is not keeping a low profile. You can’t be linked to a person whose family is being investigated for money laundering. Come on, I’ll find out about him from the nurse. Just be cool,” he says, feeling her comply with him and not resist his pull.

They had talked further when they  were alone and she aired her reservations about Kevin and how differently he was acting. Barret advised that they maintain their suspicion about him but not to let him know. He still has the sympathy of the boards of her grandfather’s string of companies and he might do something to convince them to kick her out of her own companies.

They also agreed that she should stay away from the limelight and that directly means that she should maintain her anonymity when it came to being a real McElroy. She can’t be painted as the long lost daughter of a suspected criminal if she had any hopes of taking on the reins of T.W. Industries. She had to be tough and calculated and most of all, she had to be cold.

“Okay, Barret. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again…” she compose herself and gets some water from the water fountain beside her.

Barret casually saunters over to one pretty nurse who immediately flipped her hair when he was closing in. Cornelia rolls her eyes but smiles because Barret would surely extract the information they need about Nick and Morrison’s conditions.

She is worried about her father as well, no matter how hard she tries to suppress it. She frets that he might be in a bad situation and that she might not have a chance to tell him what she feels.

Barret comes back and fills her in with the details. “So Nick is being operated on at this very moment for a broken leg and he has some internal bleeding as well.”

She gasps but covers her mouth with her hands to stifle the sound.

“Just hand in there, Cornelia. He’s going to be okay, I know it. As for Morrison over there,” he nods his head over to where Morrison lies. “He just ingested some smoke which caused him to collapse and bump his head on the pavement. Nothing serious, I can assure you. But until his tests come back, they’re going to keep him here. The nurse said that the mother had already called in and is, as of this moment, flying in, to see her husband and son.”

She sits on one of the white chairs along the hospital lobby. “He must have went to the funeral… But why didn’t he approach me?” Then it dawns on her that the last time they spoke, she specifically told him to leave her alone…

She covers her face with her hands and tries hard to contain her tears.

“He’ll be alright, Cornelia,” Barret whispers and rubs her back.

“I just… I just don’t know if I can go on with all these pretending… Why can’t we just be together? Why are there so many complications?” she asks no one in particular.

But Barret answers all the same, “Because these are unusual circumstances. You have been given a chance to make a difference in your life and in the lives of others by helping those in need. And in order to do that, you have to have full control of your people. You can’t allow anyone the chance to stab you in the back and steal what your grandfather had worked for all his life. You are now the sole owner of a big corporation and you can expect a lot of enemies to start showing themselves. You have to be careful. We can’t all have what we want… There are times when we just need to let everything play out by themselves and hope for a good outcome…”

He was thinking about Sally and the fact that they, too, can’t be together because she had to sort out her own matters. And all he could do is to wait for her to realize that they are better together than apart. He sighs and looks down on Cornelia’s downtrodden eyes.

“I know how you feel about not being able to do what your heart tells you because your mind won’t let you… I’ll tell you about her someday,” he says when he saw the question in her eyes. “But right now, its all about you and how you can get up from this tragedy. I guess we won’t be of any use here today. I can talk to Jim about sending someone to keep an eye on them if you want. You can do that, you know. You have power now to ensure that the ones important to you are safe.”

She nods and stands up from her chair. “I guess you’re right. Yes, please, if you can send someone over here just to make sure that they’re okay and to give us an update if something comes up.”

They exit the hospital doors and drive back to the house. She then tells Barret that he could have any room he wanted on the house as long as they are there and lets Jim usher him to the guest rooms on the second floor so he could take his pick.

She proceeds to the study and sits on the reading chair next to the window. She looks at the rows and rows of books that are arranged neatly on the bookshelves and thinks back to the days when she had nothing. She never imagined that her life would suddenly take a drastic turn and that she’d meet James who took her in and provided for her. She never thought that she’d find out the truth about Nick and his true relationship with her mother, Julie.

Now, the picture she had of Nick still lies in the small suitcase she had packed. It turns out that he was never really the monster she pictured him to be.

“He cared for my mother… Quite possibly even loved her…,” she says outloud. “But what does that mean? Does that mean that I forgive him for not looking for me all these years? He had the means to do so but he didn’t…”

That was one question she always wanted to ask him but right now, he had no capability to answer any of her questions and she isn’t quite sure if she’s ready to know yet.

“For now, I will try my best to help people,” she whispers. She knows that Nick has an enemy that’s causing all the problems they’ve been having and she, herself, had fallen victim to their war.

She decides to take action and find out who is the mastermind of it all.

The next day, she calls for Kevin to investigate on that matter and to report to her whatever he could find about the people behind her kidnapping. It’s not that she wanted to hurt them as well, but she wanted the crimes to stop because she knows that with Nick indisposed, Morrison would be the next target and she couldn’t have that. She can’t let anything happen to Morrison and she will make sure nothing does.

Kevin reports to her at the end of the day with his investigation.

“It seems that the culprit is not a resident of the United States but is operating in Europe and James had ties with that family when he was there. Even though I was here, keeping an eye on you and your mother, I knew his businesses in Europe and the people he worked and socialized with. Hector de Grassi was one of the leading business moguls in Europe but he met his untimely death yeas ago… He left his whole business to his daughter, Gia. A beautiful and intelligent woman who knows what she wants and goes and gets it. I’ve met her several times when James had me fly there. She is one fine lady, that she is… But as all ladies who met Nick, she fell for him only about four years ago. Of course, Nick was married and still is married to Linda Ellis McElroy, who is also another woman not to mess with.” Kevin walks across the study and looks out the window into the gardens below.

Cornelia slept late last night and woke up early just to sit in her grandfather’s study and start thumbing through some books. She was delighted to see some familiar ones her mother used to read to her and started consuming the words from its pages.

“Okay… So what happened next?” she asks him, feeling impatient with Kevin’s long-winded story but also knows that she needs to hear all of it.

“Then someone somehow found out about some rumors that Gia’s company was being negligent of their workers and it ended up in a big lawsuit that practically ended the de Grassi Shipping Lines, which was their company. That’s how James was connected to the de Grassi’s. He was close friends with  Hector but when he died and James moved back here and found you, he lost touch with his partnership with the de Grassi Shipping Lines. He, eventually, had to let it go because of the overwhelming evidence that was brought to court. He always wanted to check on Gia though but never got the chance. Poor girl,” Kevin says, shaking his head for emphasis, “she had everything going for her but the scandal had all but obliterated their family name. Sure, she still has millions to spare but no one would want to touch the de Grassi name and be associated with it. It became something akin to the scarlet letter, I guess.”

Cornelia thinks back to the time she was abducted and remembered that the guy who took her talked to someone on the phone who seemed to be the brains of the operation. She must’ve been that person…, she thinks to herself.

“Okay, I want you to do something for me, Kevin…,” she gives him several instructions and by the time she was through, Barret arrives and Kevin departs to do what she bade him to do.

“So…,” Barret looks at her with a questioning look, “What was that?” he asks while his eyes follow Kevin’s retreating back.

That,” she nods, pertaining to her talk with Kevin, “Is the start of something meaningful. I intend to help the McElroys but I don’t want any of it leaking out and reaching Morrison. I want to do this secretly… I don’t want him to feel grateful to me or anything. I just want to help in the best way I can.”

“And that is?” he asks.

“By talking diplomacy between parties. There has been so much strife in this world that adding another war between parties would only bring more misery and more people getting hurt and ending up unhappy and unfulfilled…,” she sighs and thinks of Morrison.

“He must be awake by now. Have you heard from your man there?” she asks anxiously.

“He called me up that’s why I came looking for you. It seems that he is awake and doing well… but Nick isn’t… He ended up in a comma and they still don’t know when he will wake… if he ever does…,” he looks at her and says, “I’m sorry, Cornelia. But they have managed to mend all his other injuries such as the broken leg and arm as well as the internal bleeding. It’s just a matter of time until he wakes up, believe me. In the meantime, Morrison and his mother have arranged for a transfer back to Manhattan where Nick would be taken care of by his personal doctors closer to their home.”

“I see… I guess once I’ve concluded my business making sure things here will be cared for, I suggest we go back to New York as well. I want to meet with the members of the board of T.W. Industries in Paris but I want to make a stop in New York first. I need to make things right. Morrison and my father don’t need another headache. They have to focus on getting Nick better…”

“Okay. I agree with you with meeting with the boards but what do you need to do in New York?” He finds out the answer to his question just a few days after.

 

Cornelia gets ready for her dinner with Gia that night, making sure she looks like she means business. It’s not easy for her to look so tough and elegant at the same time, characteristics which Gia has and exudes effortlessly. Cornelia has to match that same kind of authority in order to get Gia to agree to her terms.

“The car is ready, Miss W,” Kevin says from behind the door of the suite she’s been staying in for the past day.

“Okay, Kevin. I’ll be right out,” she answers and adjusts her earrings. She’s wearing a long black pencil dress that hugs her every curve but not in a provocative manner, but in a classy and sophisticated way.

It’s square neckline shows off her long neck and flawless skin. She matched the dress with a pair of gloves and her hair was pulled up in a bun on top of her head. She looks like Audrey Hepburn in her signature poster wearing a black dress and black gloves.

She gets inside the car but not before passing through the lobby of the hotel where a string of admiring eyes turned to her. Some even thought she was a movie star with her dress and her looks.

As the car cruises along the Hudson, she adjusts her gloves and taps her fingers on the seat of the car.

Relax… It’s just meal… With a tigress, that is…, she thinks to herself. She doesn’t even know if Gia would agree to her proposition, let alone, leave the McElroys alone for good. But she has to try. At the end of the day, she is a McElroy and she will protect her family name no matter what.

She is escorted by Kevin as she boards the yacht, which was James’ favorite toy and now, hers. She invited Gia de Grassi to have dinner and to ask her a huge favor… of course, offering another one in return. She crosses her fingers and sits down on one of the velvet chairs that was set up on the deck of the yacht.

Gia arrives just a few minutes after her and Cornelia is literally struck by the beauty of the European woman. Gia’s tall frame towers over Cornelia as she gives her the traditional kiss on both cheeks.

“Bonjour, Cornelia… I am honored to be your guest this evening,” Gia says after kissing the air between their cheeks.

“Hello, Gia. I am delighted that you took me up on this offer. Please, sit down. So, how is New York treating you so far?” she asks as she signals for the waiter to pour them wine.

“Oh… It is great here. I am enjoying my time so far,” she replies with a beguiling smile.

“I’m glad to hear that. I’ve had the cook prepare a meal for us, I hope you like it. Would you like to start?”

“Sure. I have to be honest, I am famished. I just had some bit of shopping today and I enjoyed it so much I forgot to eat!” Gia shares then laughs at herself.

Cornelia laughs as well and says something agreeing to like shopping as well but was far from the truth. She could tell that Gia was sizing her up and is making chit chat to probably distract her into blurting out why she was invited in the first place.

Well, she didn’t have to wait long because Cornelia wants to get it out as soon as she could before her courage runs out.

“Well, I hope you like fish because that’s what you’re doing out here, right? Fishing for information that you could use to further push your campaign in destroying the McElroys…,” Cornelia suddenly says, her voice turning serious.

Gia’s eyebrows shoot up and her lips curve up to form a smile. “Well, you don’t beat around the bush, don’t you, little Miss Wilson?”

“I never really enjoyed surprises,” was Cornelia’s response.

“What do you plan to do about it?”

“I can offer you back your company, The de Grassi Shipping Lines, if you agree to drop this case and stop your revenge on the McElroys.” Cornelia looks her straight in the eyes as she said the words and knew from Gia’s expression that she might have a chance at convincing her to take the offer.

“What makes you think that I would ever want it back? And that company’s been dragged through the mud. Its over and done with! What makes you so confident that you could ever put that business up again?” Gia’s nose flares as she the feelings of betrayal comes rushing back to her and reminds her of the sting of being falsely accused and stripped of her previous life. “The McElroys are worthless pieces of dirt who deserve everything that’s happening to them. Nick’s accident proves that even the heavens agree with me in punishing them for what they have done!”

“And they are paying for their mistakes and sins. As you said, Nick is still in a comma and his wife has been going through a lot lately too with the accident and the impending lawsuit. Don’t you see that you’ve done enough? The rest will follow. If they really deserve to be punished, then they will be. Don’t lower yourself to being a common criminal, abducting people and forcing them to do your will. Have you asked yourself that your father wouldn’t want you to be this way?” Cornelia’s voice is calm and collected and is having the desired effect on Gia’s reasoning.

Gia stays silent for a few minutes as Cornelia continues, “And I can guarantee you that you can run your business again, with my help. I will invest as much as I can to have your shipping line up and running smoothly again and will make sure that the tarnished reputation will wash away like water does to dirt. You have an opportunity to rise again as a renewed person. A person who has let go of her past and who has decided to look forward.”

As she says those words to Gia, she can’t help but internalize her own words and think about her own current situation. She might as well be giving that advice to herself more than Gia.

“I was once like you… lost and left alone in this desolate world, trying to find where I belong. I was thrust into an existence that I never wanted to begin with… Nobody wants to be an orphan and alone… So I focused all my strength into getting back at those who have let me exist in that kind of life. I vowed that  I would  have my revenge on Nick McElroy but life took me into a different turn… I never thought that I would change my mind and actually advocate for him… to help him instead of hurt him. It was because I learned that hating and holding on to grudges never gets you anywhere but a heart full of regrets and a string of enemies. I don’t want that in my life… So I stopped and reevaluated my life and what’s left of it… Who’s left in it… And I realized that I could turn it all around. It’s not too late to do so. I’m offering you a way out of this wretched existence. To start anew, away from the hurt and pains of your old self.”

Cornelia had somehow closed the space between them and is now leaning forward and holding Gia’s hand in hers, offering her reassurance and strength. Gia finally nods and smiles at her.

“You might be young but you are older than your years. I appreciate you giving me a second chance and I will gladly take your offer. I will leave tomorrow and have my lawyers send a dismissal for the case. I will go back to Tuscany to prepare for our new venture,” she says graciously.

“Thank you, Gia… for opening your heart and seeing reason. I will be following you shortly to Europe and set up my office again in Paris. I’ve never been in that part of the world… or any other part except for Jersey and New York. I do hope you’ll take me out shopping one day… or perhaps the museums?”

“Ah! I would gladly take you in the best tour you’ll ever have. I can’t wait for you to live there. It is a very nice country to live in,” Gia responds.

Yes, I will be living in Europe now… There’s no turning back…, was the thought at the back of her head as they proceeded with their dinner.

The next day, Gia did as she promised and left for Tuscany. Cornelia went to her old apartment with Barret and reminisced her time there. She never thought she would leave that place and go to Europe, nonetheless! She’s partly excited to go to another place… halfway around the world, and she’s also scared of the new adventure she will embark on.

Barret had agreed to go with her but only for a few months since he needs to go back to his business and oversee his apartments, but promised to visit often.

Kevin, of course, would be going along with her to show her the ropes. She personally wanted Barret to stay with her but Kevin was the best go-to guy for all things that James did in Europe when he was there.

She looks at her apartment one final time and can’t help but tear up. That place was her home for the most part of the year and now, she’s saying yet another goodbye to a place she had lived in. She lived in other places before but so far, Barret’s apartment building has been the most memorable so far.

She closes her door and walks out of the complex. Barret is at his house still packing and waiting for her to come over. She looks at her watch and sees that it’s just two-thirty-five. Their flight will be at four and it’s one of the private jets that James owned… that she now owns.

She sees the park a few yards away and decides to visit it one last time. She trudges through the fallen leaves of the trees nearby and feels the breeze play with her hair. She welcomes the cold air and clutches her scarf closer to her neck.

She finds a bench facing the green playground and sits there, placing her small suitcase on the ground beside her leg. She sits there and thinks back to the days when she was lost in the streets of New York, cold and starving, and then an angel appeared and offered her shelter and food. That must have been the happiest day she’s ever had ever since her mother died.

She then became the independent woman who vowed to take down her father and run his life to the ground. But in the end, she couldn’t do that to her own flesh and blood. No matter how cruel and uncaring Nick seemed to be to her, she recognizes that he is still her biological father. James’ confession convinced her that she might be judging Nick too hard for he did try to make things right with her mother, but James was the one who never gave him a chance. She couldn’t blame her grandfather as well because he was just protecting his child.

In the end, no one is to blame for her current circumstance. She was a victim of very unfortunate turn of events but because of those certain events, she emerged stronger and wiser beyond her years. And now, she will start a new life… A new Cornelia Lewis Wilson. Her true name and true identity will now reveal itself to the world and she will prove to everyone that she is the rightful heir to her family’s legacy.

She feels the air shift as she dreams of Europe. She feels someone behind her but she doesn’t look. She knows that if she does, she might never be able to leave. So she looks on forward, never tilting her head back to see him, not giving an inch of reaction to his arrival.

After a few minutes, he was gone.

It’s for the best… I never could have said goodbye without running back into his arms. It’s best this way… No farewells, no teary last words… Just another ordinary encounter at the park in the wee hours of the morning.

She sighs one last time and gets up from the bench. She heads back to Barret’s house where he awaits for her in his porch, ready with his bags and his comforting smile.

“Ready?” he asks, rubbing his hands together to warm himself from the biting cold.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, Barret. Let’s go before we both change our minds,” she chuckles as they get inside Barret’s pick up.

Yes, I will go away… I don’t know when I’ll be back – if I will ever be back – to this place. I hope that Nick comes out okay and that Morrison hangs in there. I would have loved to have a different ending to this day but right now, this is the only ending for me and for our story.

 

Cornelia and Barret ride off into the sunrise, hoping for a better tomorrow and leaving behind lost dreams and loves that are put on hold for a better time… perhaps in the next years to come… or the next lives…

Advertisements