Chapter I

 

She looks at herself in the mirror and sees the past… She remembers his embrace and his kisses. Would she ever feel that way again? Would she allow herself to be vulnerable and take the plunge?

She’s been in Paris for more than a week. After James’ funeral, she and Barret flew the next night to Paris and went straight to one of the properties of James in the province of Etretat, Normandy, just about two and a half hours from Paris. She guessed James had a penchant for the beach and the wide-open seas for most of his houses and properties are in coastal areas and fishing towns, which, understandably, are convenient locations for his shipping line.

James Tudor Wilson was the sole owner and proprietor of T.W. Industries, which consisted of three major companies – T.W. Merchandising, T.W. European Shipping Lines, and T.W. Corp. All these companies are operating mainly from Paris, France and servicing the European sector. James had just started branching out into the US market when he found out he had cancer, ten years ago, and when he found out about Julie’s death and Cornelia’s disappearance, he never really pushed conquering the US business market because he wanted to focus on finding his only granddaughter, Cornelia Lewis Wilson.

Julie had run away from their home in Buffalo when she was just nineteen and pregnant with Cornelia. She had disowned James because he wouldn’t let her be with Nick McElroy, the hotshot businessman who was married to a distinguished Southern household name, Linda Ellis McElroy. He knew that Nick would never have divorced Linda for his daughter or any woman for that matter because of Linda’s money and influence in the business world. Nick was still a young lad in the cutthroat world of business and politics and he knew that without Linda and her father, he would have never made it big.

Nick and Julie had a relationship that was wrong from the start but the two had admitted to him that they were in love. But he didn’t believe them then and made sure that they never saw each other again. Linda McElroy, on the other hand, also knew of the affair but chose to remain silent because James was already doing what he could to separate the two. So when Julie couldn’t take the words that Nick had supposedly told James – all of which were fabricated by James in hopes that Julie would forget him – she slipped away in the middle of the night and never set foot in that house again. James’ plan of destroying Nick’s credibility in front of Julie had backfired and he was left shut out from Julie’s and her daughter’s life until she finally met her death during a car crash.

Cornelia could still remember her mother being distraught over something a few days before she died but she couldn’t bring herself to ask her what bothered Julie. Instead, she just let her deal with it and hoped that her mother would get over what was bothering her. What can she do anyway? She was ten at that time… But she will never forget that day when she could have simply asked her what was going on and just stayed home that day instead of having to force her mother to drive her to school and to eventually pick her up again. That was when she had the accident that cost her life – on her way to pick her up. She was then turned over to the care of the state of New Jersey and placed in an orphanage where she spent six dismal years of her youth. She was beaten many times and bullied while she was at the girl’s home. But she grew tough and was left alone after a few years. Even with her renewed toughness and independence, she never let herself be talked into joining the gangs in the girl’s orphanage, instead, she ran away when she turned sixteen. She wandered around for a week and, luckily, was found by James when she was loitering around the streets near the train stop. Naturally, she didn’t trust James at first even though he said he was a friend of her mother’s. She never saw him in her life or anywhere around Julie, so she was suspicious but she didn’t have a choice but to accept his help or else, she would have starved to death.

Over time, James had proved that he was to be trusted. He provided for her, fed her, gave her shelter, and gave her information about the man she thought was her father, Nick McElroy. She came to know of the man when she saw an old photograph of her mother and Nick, locked in each other’s arms. He was the only man she saw her with so she always suspected he was her biological father.

When Cornelia entered the offices of McElroy and Burns after plotting her revenge, she met Morrison. He became a huge part of her life and is still is, but not as present as she wants him to be. Morrison was a breath of fresh air… Someone who brought back meaning to her life and who have gone through the rollercoaster ride of battling the odds and their enemies like Gia de Grassi, a heiress, who even went as far as ordering Cornelia to be abducted so that Morrison would give up the evidence in their possession against Gia. Gia had concocted a grand scheme of pinning a money laundering case against Nick McElroy, who had once broken her heart but most of all, against Linda, his wife – who destroyed Gia’s life by starting a lawsuit of negligence against the said heiress because she had an affair with Nick.

It was all a big scandal, Gia’s lawsuit, and the ending was her having to give up the company her father had worked for all his life, and going back to Tuscany, a defeated woman. But she vowed vengeance which she had ultimately exacted by pinning Nick with a money laundering case that threatened the whole existence of his bank, Missions Bank, and all other companies he owned.

Meanwhile, Morrison, having rescued Cornelia from Gia’s thugs, took James’ advise to leave her alone for her own safety and tried pushing her away with his words… But as soon as he learned about James’ passing, he quickly raced back to Cornelia’s side to give her comfort and take back the hurtful words he said. However, she had turned her heart to stone yet again. She was hurt by Morrison’s fleeting faith in their relationship and didn’t believe they could face all odds, so she, herself, turned him away, claiming that she no longer loved him and that he was right in saying that they should just go their separate ways. Despite not agreeing adamantly to Cornelia’s decision of not taking him back, he had to respect what she wanted and decided to give her the space and time she needed to think things through. Besides, she had just lost the only family she ever had… She deserved to grieve and deal with her emotions her own way.

As Cornelia learned from James himself as he confessed before he died that Nick McElroy iss truly her biological father and that Morrison is her stepbrother, she launched her own investigation on the case against Nick. She eventually found out, through the help of James’ right hand, Kevin, that Gia de Grassi was behind all of it.

She then decided to help the McElroys and struck a deal with Gia. The agreement was that she would help her get her company up and running again and to stay that way, with the help of T.W. Industries. Thankfully, Gia agreed to backing, off in the hopes of seeing her father’s company rise from the ground and again see its glory.

Morrison never knew that it was Cornelia who saved his family… The one who thought about what was best for him even if they were apart. Cornelia didn’t want anybody to know either so she had asked Gia to keep quiet if she was ever asked by Nick or Morrison.

Nick, on the other hand, overheard the conversation between Barret and Cornelia back in the funeral that she was, indeed, the missing grandchild of the old man and in his haste of confronting Morrison first and to find out if he knew that Cornelia was, in fact, his stepsister, met a nasty car accident. He and Morrison – who rushed to the scene and was the one who pulled Nick out of the flames – were both rushed to the hospital where Nick slipped into a comma. His son, Morrison, only had minor injuries but as soon as Cornelia heard what had happened, she rushed to Morrison’s side when he was still unconscious and admitted to herself that she still loves him. But even with her intense love for the young man, she had to part from him and discover her own self. To find out her own capabilities and what she can do for others. So she left the hospital and didn’t show herself to either McElroy until Linda came and whisked her family back to New York.

The night that Cornelia and Barret were to depart for Paris, Morrison had the sudden feeling of seeing Cornelia’s old apartment and he saw her sitting on one of the benches in the park where they first met. He wanted to go to her and take her in her arms, confess that he missed her terribly and that he loved her more than his own life… but he didn’t. He supposed that he would have plenty of time to woo her back to him since she was back in New York. Little did he know that she only went there to get her stuff.

She and Barret flew to Paris that very same night and spent the next few days in another one of James’ houses.

She remembers how enchanted both she and Barret were of the place when they got there after grueling hours in the air. Kevin went ahead of them for about five or six hours so he could prepare the place and give instructions to the help about the arrival of their new employer.

“Whoa! This place is just majestic!” Barret exclaimed as they climbed down the car. “Can you imagine how big it is inside? I mean, it’s humungous out here! I can probably fit half of a football field inside that thing!” he kept ogling at the house as Cornelia stared at it as well.

She never knew that James had so many houses overseas. Well, she never really knew the real him until he told her the truth about him being her grandfather.

“I don’t have any words… I- I have never seen anything more grand this house and… oh, the view is breathtaking, Barret! You must come and see!” She pointed to the crashing waves just beyond the tops of the properties outer gates. The house literally stood on a cliff and the waves that kept crashing on the rocks beneath the house were gigantic.

“Miss W, please come inside when you’re ready. The staff is awaiting your arrival,” were Kevin’s curt words when he saw them gawking at the place outside the doors.

“Okay, Kevin, we’ll be there in a few minutes,” she responded and ignored Barret’s annoyed look at Kevin. “Relax, Barret. He’s probably tired from all the travelling and the arrangements he had to make before we got here. Give the guy a break, okay?” she said calmly to Barret.

“Yeah, we’re all tired but I just don’t like his tone. He shouldn’t be talking to you like that. After all, you’re his employer now. If he doesn’t like it then he could just leave.” Barret had noticed a slight change in Kevin like he became very irritable all of a sudden. “I don’t know… He was all right when James was still alive but now, I get this feeling that there’s something more to him that we don’t know… But hey, you’re right. I’ll give the guy a break and get off his case,” he said when she gave him a look of disapproval and then finally smiled when he promised to give the guy a break.

“Thanks. I know you’re just looking out for me but I also appreciate a little leniency for people who have been with James as long as Kevin had… I owe him a lot… We had better get inside. I’m excited to see the staff.” Cornelia giggled like an excited girl and Barret couldn’t help but smile at her quirky side.

She’s beginning to lighten up and to embrace her future and Barret could see that she will not be wasting what James had left her.

They met with the staff of the house, which was a total of fifteen people who came from the same village. Joaquin is the butler or the head of the household staff. He’s younger than Jim, who was the butler in the Wilson’s ancestral home back in Buffalo, maybe around his late thirties or early forties, but he looks wiser than his years. He was the one who introduced the rest of the staff to her and Barret while Kevin excused himself for another errand.

She has two drivers at her beck and call to, basically, take her wherever she needed to go using several cars in the parking lot. Then there was the cook and his assistant as well as several maids in-charge of the household chores for maintaining the house and keeping things in order. Most of them had worked there for most of their lives. When they greeted her in English with heavy European accents, they had so many good things to say about James and how generous he was whenever he was there and even when he was not. He made sure that they have secured jobs and even their children as long as they remained in his employ and gained his trust.

Cornelia was teary-eyed after she had shaken their hands and heard so many good memories they’ve hd with James.

“T-Thank you, everyone. It means a lot to me that you have so many treasured memories with my grandfather. I- I wish I had as many as yours but I had enough to remind me everyday how such a good person he was…,” she said with pride as she turned to Joaquin and asked if they could see their rooms and have a little rest before diner.

“Oui, mademoiselle. Pleezz vallow me,” he said with a heavy French accent.

“Wow! I love his accent,” Barret said behind her as they walked up the stairs.

She shsssd him and whispered not to be so loud for Joaquin might hear them.

“Sorry, its my first time in this country and I don’t get out often. This is really exciting,” he answered as they both giggled like school kids going on a field trip.

“Me too! I have never been anywhere else except Jersey and New York… I feel like we’re on an excursion of some sort.” She looked around the grand hallway as Joaquin continued to walk towards the end of the hall of the second floor.

“Here you are, mademoiselle. Pleez let me know vat elz you need,” Joaquin said with a friendly smile.

“There’s nothing else tonight, Joaquin. Merci beaucoup! I appreciate your warm welcome and please tell the staff that I thank them as well.” She smiled at him as he nodded and left them at their doors. They slept soundly that night and the following nights thereafter.

Cornelia woke up in the middle of the night. They’ve been at that house for three days now and so far, she and Barret had been enjoying the open ocean that was, practically, laid out on her backyard and even went sailing that afternoon with Joaquin, who was, as they learned, a former boat captain who worked for James. He was operated a small boat for fishing. He used to sell the fish he caught to James who frequented that house years ago. James, seeing how hard it was for Joaquin to fish for there were many other boats and ships that fished in those waters, offered him a job of becoming his butler instead. He told Cornelia and Barret how lucky he was to have been hired by James and he, in turn, hired the other members of the staff in the house.

“Mizter Jemz waz very good to uz… Ee deed ees best to elp us, ee did…” said the somber butler. “Well, pleez enjoy the view…”

They sailed for the rest of the day with Joaquin dazzling both Cornelia and Barret about his early adventures across the seas and his days serving as James’ butler, interpreter, chess mate, and most of all, friend. Cornelia was so grateful for his stories because she got to see a glimpse of his grandfather yet again from another person whose life was touched because of his kindness. Sometimes, it was hard for her to imagine him being angry with her mother and even wedging the gap between her parents. But as she realized, people do change and maybe, James had grown to know his mistakes and turned himself around when he lost Julie.

Those days were blissful and short for her. Even though only Barret and her shared a wonderful meal at Christmas Eve, it was still a great night shared by true friends. Kevin said he wanted to visit a friend and of course, Cornelia gave her staff a few days off.

“Did you ever see yourself spending Christmas eve with me? In this paradise, no less?” Barret asked all of a sudden as they were finishing their meal.

She looked at him and seemed to think about what he said, “Actually, no. I never even pictured myself spending the holidays with anyone… Well, except James, of course, if he didn’t have to be somewhere else important. But yeah, this is just so surreal… I still pinch myself to see if I am really in this beautiful house with this breathtaking view… And that James was really my grandfather and that he left me all of this,” she said gesturing all around her. “I am not someone who had everything while growing up, I mean, I barely had anything, especially when Mom died… But I never expected such a pouring of blessings… I have James to thank and I just hope that I would do him proud when I take over his companies,” she finished with a sad voice.

“Ah, don’t doubt yourself, Cornelia. I am one hundred percent sure that you will do your mom and grandfather proud of what you will be doing for the future of T.W. Industries. I can’t wait to see you get started with your plans. And I’m glad you’ve brought me along for the ride… eventhough I’ll be leaving in a couple of months.” Barret winked at her and she smiled back.

“I know… I just hope you could stay longer but I can’t ask that of you any longer. You have a life back in New York. You can’t pause your entire life just for me. Thank you for coming here with me in the first place. It gives me strength knowing you’re by my side as I take over. I do hope that the board members are as hospitable as the staff here.” They enjoyed the rest of the night and the following few more days.

Soon enough, they had to go back to Paris to take care of the legalities of her claiming her right to her family’s group of companies. They said their good byes to Joaquin and all the other members of the household and she promised to come back as soon as she got everything straightened out.

 

The air is cold and the breeze grazes her hair like a lover’s caress. She breathes in the air of the New Year as the remnants of the Christmas season still lingers on the radio near the spot she stands on. She used to hate the holidays simply because she never saw the need for it… Or she never had anyone to share it with, is more like it.

The one chance that she would have someone to call family, had slipped off her fingers for he was taken just too soon. She didn’t have a chance to share any time with him and she will forever regret that but she knows that James is now reunited with her mother, Julie, who had left her ten years ago.

“Hey, you two! How are you there? I’m sure you’re enjoying your time together there. I’ll come along when I’m able. But for now, I’d like to see what good I can still do for this world.” She looks at her surroundings and smiles at the children’s expectant faces as they run around the park in the middle of the romantic city of Paris.

Barret is back at the penthouse of the hotel they are currently staying at while they are in Paris. It was another of James’ residences when he was in the city and the hotel staff were so gracious and accommodating the moment they arrived a day before. She decided to take a stroll through the city and find somewhere to sit and think to herself. Luckily, she found a small park around the corner and she’s been sitting on that wooden bench for a near half hour when someone suddenly sits beside her.

“Excusez-moi, mademoiselle. Est quelqu’un assis ici?” a deep male voice asks and she turns to see who it is.

He has dark long hair that reaches above his shoulders, wavy and soft looking and his eyes look like twin black pools that seem to suck her in an endless abyss. She shakes her head to get back to reality and says politely that she doesn’t speak French.

“Je ne parle pas français, monsieur,” she responds, or more like squeals, and shakes her head again.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were French. Please forgive me. I asked if somebody was sitting here?” he says again, this time with a British accent.

Come on! She thinks to herself as she tries to hide her blush. She has always admired men with accents, especially the British accent. It was one of the seldom things she liked about men in general.

“It’s fine, sir, you don’t have to apologize. And no, there is no one sitting here. Please,” she offers the space beside her, which is still very spacious for she’s siting near the edge of the bench. “knock yourself out,” she says goodheartedly.

He chuckles and responds, “Don’t mind if I do, then. But please tell me if I’m bothering you so I could scoot off somewhere else. I do tend to murmur to myself and make weird ticking sounds…” He looks seriously at her.

“Oh no, you can’t possibly bother me, err, even if you make ticking sounds…” she starts saying then stops as she sees his lip curl up. “Ah, you’re messing with me. Ha ha ha!” she laughs sarcastically then rolls her eyes at him.

“Aha! Gotcha!” he laughs then says, “I’m sorry, miss… You looked absolutely serious and you seem to stare at the grass so hard that I was afraid you were trying to cut them with your stare. I had to do something. Poor little grass, they are. They don’t mean to annoy you, you know.”

She bursts out laughing after trying not to listen to his joke. He looked so serious while he was making his jokes, which made his jokes actually even funnier than they seemed. He joins her in laughing and he even told her even funnier thoughts that he had as he was looking at her staring stoically at the ground.

“Wow! That was a good laugh… Thank you… I needed that,” she says after laughing for a good two minutes. She doesn’t know why she is suddenly being honest to this man whom she just met a few minutes ago.

Well, at least he would know that I really needed a good laugh and that he gave me that. And besides, it’s not as if he knows me. I had better just enjoy these moments instead of overanalyzing things, she thought to herself as her face returned to her normal expression.

“I’m glad I’ve put a smile on that lovely face. Now, you’re even more beautiful than you were five minutes ago,” he winks and she feels a little self-conscious.

It’s not that she has low self-esteem, she’s just used to ducking her head most of the time to avoid being on the spotlight. When she was still plotting against Nick McElroy, she loved a double life, being an amiable and friendly employee to her colleagues and bosses, and the other side of her, which was a life of self-inflicted isolation from people. She was scared of being close to anyone because they will eventually leave her alone. She had hurt so much during the early years of her life to the point of her being afraid of relationships… except with Morrison. He was the only one who broke through her walls and made her hope for a better future with someone who would be there all through out. But as it turned out, he wasn’t up for the task. He did try convincing her to go back to him before she left but she was deeply hurt the first time he rejected him that she cannot trust him now… she doesn’t know if she will ever trust him again.

“Umm, excuse me, I should go,” she says all of a sudden, her expression turning serious and she turns inward again.

The handsome stranger looks surprised and quickly apologizes for his forward behavior. “My apologies miss. I was just making conversation… I mean, you really are pretty, but not in that creepy kind of way… Not that I am a creep but -,” he stops and scratches his head. “I’m sorry, I get so tongue-tied when I’m nervous and I just speak these stupid words to cover up how nervous I am… I- I’m truly sorry. I’ll leave… I don’t want you to leave your spot because of my moronic words. Please,” he starts to stand up and gather his things.

She suddenly feels guilty for making him feel that way when she didn’t take any offense with his jokes. “Oh, no, please sit down, sir. It’s not that. I just really have to go. You can take my spot, really.” She stands and starts to walk towards the hotel.

“Hey, wait!” the guy exclaims, following her. “I don’t even know your name, miss…”

She turns to him and tells him. “My name is Cornelia. Have a good day.” And with that, she continues walking and never looks back until she arrives at the hotel just a few blocks from where the park is.

The man stands on the path, taking in the scene and mentally memorizing her face. His employer has given him a picture of her but he never thought that she was that beautiful up close. This is going to be his last job and then he would finally flee that kind of life. It’s his way out. His last ditch effort to a comfortable and guilt-free life. He’s been doing that kind of business all his life and now, at thirty, he’s decided to leave that kind of life and start living for himself. The only reason he got into that kind of practice was that he needed to survive, having been orphaned at the age of seventeen after his parents were trapped inside their home when a fire happened. They were already poor before, living in the less friendly neighborhood in the city of Roubaix, which is already considered the ground zero for France’s poverty-stricken families.

Theo’s phone rings and he flicks it open to see who’s calling him.

It’s my employer. I need to answer. Damn…

“Yes. I saw her. I will let you know what else I can find out. If you could let me know what you are looking for specifically, it would make my job a lot easier-,” he starts sounding annoyed but then the other speaker cuts him off and tells him to just follow the instructions given to him.

This is going to be an easy job for him if only he knew what the hell his employer wants him to do. He is a gun for hire so he assumes that it’s what his client would ask him to do. He is highly regarded amongst his peers in that kind of industry, which is pretty much, prevalent in the world of politics and business. They were all just using one another. Nobody is innocent anymore and he figured that out at the early age of seventeen when he was left alone in the world and stashed in the system. He got passed around from one foster family to another then finally, after being beaten half to death by his foster father, he sprang free and just lived in the streets for a couple of years where he learned to kill rather than be killed. It was an unfair lot that life had gotten him in. And there was no escape… unless you’ve killed enough people that they begin haunting you in your dreams and you suddenly grow a conscience.

That’s what happened to Theo only a few months ago, after making his last client happy, protecting a family of innocents from a businessman who hired his own thugs to kill the family off just because he wanted them off his back and stop investigating him for his racketeering and other illegal activities. The last shot he fired had shaken him so badly that he vomited on the floor after shooting the masked guy who attempted to kill the wife of the District Attorney. From that night on, he decided to quit and start a new life, if he still could… He figured he could still live peacefully if he only had enough cash to get him by in the next few years and then he would look for a normal job afterwards. He was good in tinkering with things and he even assembled his own car a few years ago. That’s what he wanted to do. He wants to be a mechanic – not a very good one, but just a normal handy man who could earn an honest pay from an honest kind of work. He was through putting himself on the line for people he didn’t even know and killing their enemies for them. He wants out.

So when he got a call from his cellphone from an old client, who wanted to refer a new one who could pay a huge amount of cash, he took the chance to do one last job. This last job is his ticket to freedom and he wouldn’t let anything or anyone screw it up for him.

So far, his client just wants him to tail the girl – not do anything drastic like what he just did, introducing himself and having a chat.

Just follow her around and let me know where she’s going at all times,” his client said to him the first time they talked on the phone. “I’ll tell you what else you need to do when you need to do it. Don’t let her see you or suspect anything.”

He just responded “Yes” to everything because he knew that it’s what you say to the person who’s money is going to feed you for the next several years of your life. But what he didn’t expect was that he would be drawn to this mysterious and innocnet lady-child.

She must be in her early twenties… She’s beautiful…, was his first thought when he saw her sitting on the bench by herself, looking at the grass, and the trees like it was her first time seeing them.

He follows suit, making sure he puts a good enough distance between them. He put on his jacket and also tied his hair back so she won’t recognize him right away if she happened to glance back… but she never did. She went straight to her hotel and he is left gazing up at the tall building.

“I wonder what secrets you hold…,” he whispers to himself as he turns up the lapels of his jacket t ward off the cold breeze of that afternoon.

 

 

 

Chapter II

 

“I can’t believe she’s gone there without even telling me!” Morrison slams his fist on the table in his office. The sound resonates outwards and his secretary immediately looks in his direction with a questioning look.

“It’s nothing Jan. Please ignore me,” he calls out to Jan, who has been his secretary since he got there.

He’s been on an emotional roller coaster for the past few weeks. First, with rescuing Cornelia – from what he surmises, was from Gia’s group of thugs – then to breaking Cornelia’s heart because he thought it was the best thing to do to keep her out of danger. Then James dies and he tried getting Cornelia back after realizing what a dick he was for even thinking that hurting her might save her from any danger associated to him and his family… only to get rejected back by her. It was the most devastating rejection by any girl he has ever experienced, only because she was and still is the only girl he loved that much. He was willing to give up everything for her but he realized too that she had just learned her real identity and lost her only family. He respected her need to grieve and to move on… but he couldn’t help but be mad with jealousy over the fact that she had gone to Paris with Barret – of all people! – after he thought she was going to move back to New York when he saw her sitting on the park bench near her old apartment.

“Well, if that’s what you want, then fine! Stay away from me then, I don’t care… You could even go traipsing with Barret across the European towns if you want, I don’t care…,” he hisses to himself but knowing deep inside that it was the total opposite of what he’s feeling right at that moment. He cares very much about her and what she does without him. He wants so bad to be the one with her while they travel along the provincial towns of Europe. He was sure that she would stay in New York after he saw her sitting on a park bench in her old neighborhood nearly two weeks ago. The only reason why he didn’t contact her or go to her old apartment was her last plea for him to stay away from her. He thought he was just giving her space and time to think things through and then when she eventually grieved over James and returned to her normal self, then maybe she would mellow down and let him talk to her again. He was going to give it another week before he went over to her apartment complex, thinking that it would be ample enough time for her anger at him to abate… But he never thought that she was actually going to fly to Europe on that exact night and that it was probably the last time he would see her again… at least for a long time.

A thought suddenly strikes him and in an effort to stem his jealous nature and to make sure she’ll be all right on her own in a faraway place, he calls a number that he was given in confidence – to be used in times that he needed someone reliable to do a very important job. He makes the transaction with the person and hopes that Cornelia stays out of trouble or else the man he talked to would have to take care of the situation.

He feels the pang of longing he’s always felt whenever Cornelia was away from him and he feels it even more since she left the country. He thought of going after her but with the situation at home, he couldn’t leave his family behind at that moment. Nick is still in a coma and his mother has been functioning mostly on cocktails and medication. Most days, she just looks at him with helplessness and all he could do was to hug her to him and tell her encouraging words while he tries to cope with the stress of it all. So he just did what he thought would be the best in that situation.

One good thing that he was thankful for was that the lawsuit against his father and his bank, Missions Bank, was completely dismissed by the judge due to the lack of compelling evidence have been brought forth to support the claims of the opposition. That and the fact that the opposition themselves wanted to drop the case entirely. It was like having a huge weight lifted off his shoulders and he didn’t press on finding Gia de Grassi anymore. He was just thankful that all of that mess was past them but it also stresses the fact that he and his family had to face a much bigger problem, Nick’s health and his life…

He walks to the big window that has the view of the Manhattan streets and skyscrapers. He sighs and remembers the saddest Christmas Eve he’s ever had just a few days ago.

He went to the hospital to celebrate the occasion along with his mother where they had a somber diner, sitting beside Nick’s hospital bed while all the nurses, doctors, and other staff members, sang Christmas carols outside Nick’s room. He looked over to Linda and smiled at her while she finished her diner.

“Merry Christmas mom,” he whispered and went to her to give her a warm hug.  Linda’s voice broke as she thanked him.

“I’m sorry, Morrison. I can’t help but feel sad on this happy occasion. I’ve never had this kind of Christmas and your dad always made sure to come home during the holidays no matter how busy he was with his work. You used to love it when you hear his car come up the driveway because you knew that he would be spending the next couple of days with us, at the house, and left his work behind at the office.”

All he could do was nod and tell her that he understood perfectly, which he did, but he wished he could have done more than comfort his mother. He wished he could have woken his father back to his old self and they would continue on with life. Then, only then, will he be able to pursue Cornelia and win her back in every way possible… But until then, he would have to be there for his father and his mother. After sharing a meal with Linda, he had to say goodnight for he would have an early morning the next day. Of course, the office had some time off for the holidays but he didn’t have anywhere better to go so he wanted to just spend another day at the office to go through the books and get himself more acquainted with his father’s affairs for he would be continuing them until Nick comes back.

He sat cross-legged in the middle of his apartment just a few blocks from his office, and stared at the take-out food he purchased before going home. He ate at the hospital but he wanted to buy something for his breakfast the next day. He wouldn’t have time to whip something up for himself and he would surely not have a second to spare going through the lines of early birds who want their take-out breakfast as well.

He stared at the carpet and saw nothing. His mind was back with Cornelia and what she could possibly be doing at that very moment. How he wished he could be with her and just hold her in his arms. Morrison suddenly felt a renewed passion of helping others as a way to divert his misery over missing someone who does not or cannot be with him at that point in his life. It has been a while since he had done any charitable works even without using his family’s companies.

He suddenly sprang to his feet and got his laptop. He started searching through different sites in and around the city where many people needed the most help. He couldn’t get out of the city, let alone the country, for he had to take care of his parents and the companies that were left without a leader. He was suddenly thrust into the frontlines and he has to get used to being there and learn as much as he could for the sake of his family’s legacy.

The next morning, he cruised by his office but before that, he went to the slum area near his office and talked with the members of the church that provides daily food programs to the homeless and needy. He pledged a huge sum of money to pay for the provisions in order for the people to be fed but more than that, he pledged to be there every Saturday to participate and to help them out in any way he could. The church members and pastor were so thankful to him as he also asked them not to publicize whatever he would be doing when he starts to help out. He explained that he didn’t want to be put on the spotlight especially after his father was just cleared of all the charges against him. He didn’t want it to come off as a publicity stunt to give attention to the company’s philanthropic works.

The pastor assured him that it would not get out and they would respect his wishes. So the following Saturday, after he went to visit Nick in the hospital, he dressed in his normal and simple clothes and used his bike to go to the community church where the feeding program happens every weekend. He also didn’t bring his driver to avoid questions and stares from other people. He can’t very well go there in his sports car and start doling out trays of food, now can he? He spent the whole day and it was the most enjoyable experience he’s ever had ever since he went to Africa. He was very engaged with the people who went there looking for a momentary relief from their harsh situations, even sitting with them and talking to them. He wanted to know the real situation in his community and he wanted to do more. He wouldn’t be satisfied with just giving out food to the homeless and needy. He wants to do so much more. So for the next couple of days, he contracted some members of the church he was helping to go out to the places where the homeless usually stayed and create reports about it – what the terrain was, is there a source of water, locations of these temporary shacks or makeshift houses, and also to scout the best possible place where he could have something built to provide shelter to them.

He didn’t expect it to be done right away so he busied himself with office matters and found out that Cornelia had gone to Paris with Barret. Kevin had called him on his phone just to see how he was doing all of a sudden then just offhandedly mentioned that he was in Paris with Cornelia and Barret.

“What?!” he exclaimed.

“Umm, yeah, they flew out here the day after the funeral. Well, they went to James’ old house in Etretat first for about a week. They spent the holidays there actually and right now they’re in Paris. Would you want me to deliver a message?” Kevin asks, knowing full well that the two had a recent fall out but wanted to make sure that the two were not communicating. Kevin needs to make sure that Morrison is out of the way in protecting Cornelia so he would have only Barret to deal with.

“Ah…,” Morrison starts to say “Yes” but thinks better of it, “No. That’s okay. She doesn’t want to hear from me or see me so I best leave her alone for now. But, ah, thanks for calling, Kevin. I wish you the best of luck on your next endeavor,” he says politely, meaning what he said about Cornelia and in wishing Kevin luck.

“Okay then. Thanks Morrison. Best of luck to you too!” Kevin clicks off and picks up a different phone to call somebody else.

“Where is she now?” he asks over the phone then waits for the response. “Just keep tracking her. I don’t want her making extra powerful friends in the city.” The person on the other line answers and they click off.

I have to convince the board that she is not entitled for the position and that whatever James had given her should be taken away. I deserve all of that. It should have been given to me!

He slams his fist on the car’s steering wheel but decides to drive away before somebody sees him lurking around the T.W. Shipping Lines’ building. He was looking for data about how the business was going. He just copied the files on the computer in James’ old office where his secretary in that part of the continent keeps all the updated reports and inventory in and out of the shipping company, not to mention all the partnerships the company has with other corporations. He needs to look at it and see where he can get leverage on the following week’s board meeting. He will be accompanying Cornelia in the conference room and he knows how the members of the board of directors ask and question the company’s status in all things. Of course, he won’t tell Cornelia any of it.

His plan is to let them humiliate and drill her to the ground, and then, like a hero waiting on the wings, he would swoop down and save the day by answering each and every question they would have.

Then, and only then, would they see that I know more than her and I would be the best person to handle the affairs of the company, or at least, make me her top advisor – and when I become the advisor, I’m practically the one holding the reigns of the operation. I would see to it that she screws up and run the business to the ground, he thinks to himself, smiling and feeling good about the way things are going.

 

Meanwhile, Morrison just got off the phone with his man in Paris, who flew out there the next day after their conversation. He learned that she liked taking walks and exploring the city, sometimes with Barret, but most of the time, alone. It got him so mad that she would be stupid enough not to bring someone with her in her trips outside but he was firm in telling Theo not to show himself or make himself known. She’s a clever woman and she might suspect something if Theo gets careless and she sees him several times.

But he didn’t know that Theo had already made his introductions to the young woman and, like Morrison himself, is entranced by her beauty and innocence.

Morrison wanted to make sure that Cornelia is protected and who better to do it than an ex-marine who had turned his military skills into a job and who had served as a bodyguard for powerful people. Of course the jobs he had consisted of defending the client by making sure to eliminate the threats. Morrison didn’t want to take chances with just a simple bodyguard, he wanted the best to protect her so eventhough him hiring a secret bodyguard for her is going behind her back, he still did it. He didn’t care if she got angry with him. He cares about her safety and her life, plus the fact that he is not the one with her, makes him feel a lot more scared for her. If only it were him that’s with her in Paris, he wouldn’t have to go to the extremes of hiring a man to protect her.

Well, she might think she didn’t need to tell me anything because I’m not her boyfriend and she doesn’t want to see me or talk to me… But I still care for her and I still love her…, he thinks to himself as he settles back in his chair.

He places both hands to his face and sighs deeply.

“Looks like you’re having a bad day, son,” Linda says from out of nowhere, which startles him.

“Mom! What are you doing here? Is Dad okay? I mean, is there something wrong?” he starts asking, worried that something might have happened in the hospital that’s why Linda came to his office.

“No, no. Everything’s fine… well, your dad’s not awake yet, so that’s not fine at all… but all other else are normal,” she responds, taking a seat in front of him.

“Okay…,” he clutches his chest and breathes deeply. “I thought there was something serious that happened while I was gone… Well, what brings you here, mother? Do you need anything? A drink?” he stands up and goes to the bar beside the door.

“Oh no, son. I want to be sober today, thank you very much. Please sit down. I just want to talk to you, that’s all. I get so cooped up in the hospital that I needed some air. How are you, son?” she asks seriously.

He is taken aback by her question but he answers it as best as could. “I’m swamped with work but I’m hanging on. It’s better to be this preoccupied with the tasks that was thrust to me rather than worrying about dad in the hospital… which I know you do each and every day… I wish I could do more but I can’t stand seeing him that way. He was always so strong and confident that sometimes I forget that he’s pushing sixty. I – I guess I’m not used to seeing him broken and helpless…”

Linda nods but looks at him with a firm stare, “Listen, Morrison,” she starts, “he will be strong and confident about himself again… But right now, he needs us to be strong and confident for me. He’s taking his time, which is how he is always, and I’m sure he’ll come around soon… one of these days. But until then, let’s continue to be resilient. I am not giving up on him as you should be and you couldn’t do anything else right now, even if you tried your hardest. No one can tell when he’ll come back to us… I refuse to say “If” because I know he will.” Linda says with conviction and Morrison believes her.

She stands up and faces the window, “You know, son, I was never the perfect wife for your father. I have done lots of things that I am not proud of and most of them, I regret now… But life has a way of catching up on you and now, it has. You and your father are the most important things in my life and without both of you, I would be like an empty shell. The riches and fortune that we have are but bonuses to what we have… a family, which I have fought for all my life and I will still continue fighting for, for the rest of my days…,” she says then turns to him. “Remember, son, you might go all over the world to search for meaning but you will always come back to your family… They might not be your own flesh and blood, but they are the ones who love you unconditionally. I want you to make sure that you understand that.”

He joins her as they gaze out towards the busy streets of Manhattan. “I know mother, and I will make sure that I, too, when I finally have my own family, will heed your words and do everything I can to keep them. Why are you telling all this, mother?”

“I don’t know… I just feel nostalgic and I want to tell you something about my past and things I have done before. Do you have time?” she asks, hoping he would say “yes” to her sudden request.

“Well, mother, actually, I have a meeting in a few minutes,” he checks his watch, “in about five minutes, to be exact, but after that, I could make time for us to grab lunch or just have coffee somewhere, it’s up to you. Is that okay?” he looks apologetically at his mother and feels like a little boy apologizing for something.

“Of course, Morrison. I wouldn’t want to keep you from your responsibilities. I know Nick is very proud of what you have accomplished here so far.” She smiles up at her son and she feels the same pride in her heart for Morrison stepping up and taking charge of the situation. She was afraid that he wouldn’t cope with his father’s coma and seclude himself or go off somewhere and do some good works, eventually leaving her alone to deal with company and their assets. She was afraid that she would be given the huge responsibility, something that she has never done on such a large scale. She, herself, is good at transactions and handling her father’s business before but she was always on the background and never the on the limelight. She liked working from the back end and hated being put up front, not because she was shy or scared of huge responsibilities, but because she just didn’t want to waste time in socializing and putting up a positive façade just because she had to. She wanted to be her own woman and do things the way she wants them and not feel ashamed or guilty into doing them. She knew that if you are the face of a particular company or business venture, you would have to be constantly seen in public doing good things as people expect from you. No, didn’t want to be like that. She doesn’t want to be burdened by the demands of society’s definition of good conduct. She likes to indulge herself in all kinds of things and being the silent operator on the sidelines is the best position one could give her.

“Thanks for understanding, mother, but I do have to go. Will you be going back to the hospital or would you rather wait for me and go out after my meeting?” he asks.

“I’ll go to your father while you’re in the meeting. I’ll just wait for your call then,” she responds, wishing she could have talked to him right there. She feels compelled to tell him the truth behind the reasons why their family remained intact all those years. She wanted to tell him that she had plotted against the women in his father’s life and adopted him for the primary purpose of keeping Nick by her side, and that he was truly a gift because he is the glue that keeps the McElroys together through whatever they had to go through. Maybe it was because of Nick’s deteriorating condition or the fact that all of the mishaps and problems they’ve been having was because of her previous acts of spite and revenge against those women. Morrison only knows that Gia de Grassi was an old acquaintance and had previously arranged a deal with the McElroy’s but that it never went through because Gia was then involved in a huge case causing international scandal, which Nick and the company, couldn’t afford to be associated with.

Linda has reached a point where she doesn’t care anymore what happens to her or what her son would think of her when she tells him about her secret. She feels that Nick being in a coma is all her fault and that she has to come clean to her son about it. She’s been trying to dull her senses with pills and alcohol but even those wouldn’t let her have peace when she closes her eyes. She always dreams about Nick – Nick in his best tuxedo when they got married, Nick beaming at her when they finally adopted Morrison, Nick being happy and content as they cruised around with his yacht… She dreams about Nick before he changed completely and looked at other women. Before she became the monstrous woman who was clawing her way into keeping her wandering husband by her side, when she just needed to be still and could’ve just asked for divorce instead of bribing and manipulating people behind Nick’s back. She admitted to herself that she kind of, became obsessed with Nick and in building the family he always wanted but due to her problems with conceiving. She had gotten past the boundaries and did almost everything to keep Nick by her side. And now, it is not women or other things that’s keeping Nick away from her, it’s much bigger than her and any of his mistresses combined. Now, Linda has to fight tooth and nail to keep her husband from the clutches of death.

She went down the building having made up her mind that on the lunch date they would be having later that day, she would be telling Morrison about the girl who died ten years ago because of her taunts. With Nick being in a coma, she has come to terms with all her sins and she is now ready to lay it all out there and do what she can do possibly reverse whatever she had done in the past.

“Yes, I will tell him about Julie and that poor little girl, whom I had condemned to a life that she didn’t deserve all because of my jealous nature… Oh, Nick… I am so sorry about everything…” She whispers to herself as her car comes driving outside the building lobby. She goes out of the building and the guard opened the door for her. She immediately gets in and leans her head on the chair headrest and closes her eyes.

“Just take me to the hospital, Roger. But we would have to come back here later to pick up Morrison for lunch. Thank you,” she says without opening her eyes.

The driver doesn’t say a word but drives on towards the main road.

After several minutes, Linda is jerked awake. She wonders where she is then remembers that she is inside her car, driving towards the hospital where her husband still lies in bed in a coma from his near-fatal accident when he was in Buffalo.

She knew that Nick went there to see if Gia would be at the funeral of James T. Wilson, one formidable businessman who mainly had operations in Europe. She also knew that James was the very same man whom Nick went to before when he was trying to see James’ daughter, Julie. Linda knows everything about Nick and Julie and is now starting to regret what she did to their daughter. She often wondered where that little went after she ran away at the age of sixteen. She must be around twenty or twenty-one that very year but she never saw the girl. She just let her hired help do all the transactions – where she was brought after Julie died, how the poor girl’s name never entered the registry and the system that’s why no one could find her, even Nick, how she remained in that orphanage where she was thrust into. Frankly, she didn’t care before what would have become of the ten-year-old girl because she was the testament of Nick and Julie’s treacherous love affair. She was glad that the girl ran away instead of getting adopted of remaining there until she was emancipated by the state. She had had a hard time covering the whereabouts of the child and for paying people to block anyone who wanted to search through the records for her.

But now… with all that’s happened with Gia getting into the mix of craving revenge from her and her family and Nick’s present state, she begins to think that all things she had done before is coming around and she’s starting to pay for her evil deeds.

She sighs, closes her eyes again, and thinks to herself, I am old and tired. I guess this is karma… I just wish that my family was spared from all of these… I would have gladly sacrificed myself instead of Nick getting hurt over that accident. If I could only take his place, I would do it in a heartbeat…

With a big jerk of the car, they come to a stop all of sudden. She sighs and decides that there was no other way to face the circumstances of their lives now but to face it head on. She heaves herself up right and looks towards the car window.

It’s suddenly dark outside and she’s in an unfamiliar place. There were sparse buildings around the car as she turns her head a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees to inspect the place.

Oh God, I must have been drugged or something… But I never took anything before I went inside this car? Think, Linda! What happened after you got into the car? She wracks her brain for any kind of clue that might serve as a plausible answer as to how she came to that place. Wait, I told my driver to drive to the hospital and then leaned my head back on the car seats and closed my eyes… I must have passed out… Is it something in the air conditioning of the car? And why didn’t my driver answer me? Is he my driver in the first place?

Someone looks into the inside the vehicle as she pretends to still be knocked out from whatever she inhaled.

“She’s still out cold. What’s the next directive? We can’t keep her inside the car for long. She might wake up and escape…” one man said. Her eyes are still closed and she’s trying very hard to keep her breathing normal so they won’t suspect that she’s already awake.

“I don’t know man… You were the one who talked with the boss. What’s the next order? A second man with a much bigger voice asks nonchalantly. He couldn’t care less what happened to the old person they’ve got inside the car. All he cared about is getting the job done and getting paid then get some more easy jobs. Disposing the old woman would be an easy enough job, assuming she won’t put up a fight. She must be around her sixties so she won’t be that much of a bother, he thought to himself when he saw Linda still knocked out inside the car.

“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. The directions were to keep her here until the boss comes. No other specifics. I guess the killing would come after the boss comes. I just want to get this over with, if you ask me. If it wasn’t for the money, I wouldn’t take this on. I don’t like killing the elderly,” the first man, who she supposes was the one who drove her there, spoke with a little bit of regret.

But then the second guy laughs at the first guy’s sentiments. “Hah! Yeah, right! You didn’t have problems taking care of that couple just a few months ago. I heard what you did, quite heartless, Mike… So you just left them at the car to drown at that lake you tossed them into?” he asks with a smirk on his face.

Mike snorts and smiles back at Kurt, wanting to wipe the smirk off his face. He doesn’t particularly like the guy, especially since he was such a blabbermouth, always talking up things and making conversation. Mike doesn’t want to talk much and he definitely does not want to talk about the things that Gia makes him do. If only Maria were better, he would be free of his obligation and just tell Gia to fuck off and leave him in peace… but alas! Maria is still at the hospital and looked even more sullen and pale the last time he visited her just that weekend.

Gia has gone back to Paris after she met up with that girl – the very same one she had them abduct just before the funeral she went to New York for. She must have gone crazy for agreeing to that girl’s proposal! What the hell were those heinous acts for if she just agreed to let those McElroys off that easily?! He thought when he found out that Gia made an agreement with that Wilson heir. But he was surprised when Gia contacted him again and told him to somehow be the old McElroy lady’s driver and to take her on that secluded place along the outskirts of Brooklyn. He was given instructions not to harm the old lady… yet, he assumed, and to drug her and take her to the place she would be telling him when the time comes. And that time had come that morning. He had the lady’s driver knocked out with some concoction he came up with and took his place when he was going to work that morning to fetch the old lady at her house. It was a good thing that Linda McElroy is a stuck up rich old bitch that she doesn’t pay attention to those under her employ, especially the more lowly ones like her driver. He learned that she changes drivers every other month so it wasn’t a problem if his face was new to her. She gave out orders like she had done it all her life, which she has, being rich and all. Mike detested her even more when she talked to him like he was some common peasant and didn’t even spare a single look his way. It was as if her lowly servants doesn’t deserve an ounce of her time.

Well, serves her right to get what she’s getting, he thinks to himself. Maybe Kurt was right, he does enjoy killing now… It wasn’t always the case but over the years that he has served Gia, it had started to finally sink in that it was the only way he could ever make a living for his wife and himself. The money was no longer an issue… He wanted to turn over a new leaf even before they abducted the girl but after seeing Mary so weak and decrepit, he began thinking of what he would do when she finally dies. It pains him to even think about her passing but it was an inevitable truth that he would need to swallow.

And so, here he is again. Doing yet another bidding from her highness, Gia de Grassi. And he is truly starting to enjoy his job…

Oh my God! Would they really kill me? I have to warn Morrison… somebody… Linda gropes around the seat carefully, only moving her hands inch by tiny inch to check if her bag is still beside her. And it was. Thank God! She exclaims in her head and sneaks a tiny peek at the men outside the car. They are still talking, something about getting the next hit, so she makes her move and shifts closer to her handbag. She had callously tossed her bag when she got inside the car, as she always does. It had all her things like her wallet and other stuff but the most important thing she needs to get is her phone. Morrison is on speed dial so she only needs to press the number one digit and it would automatically call him.

I hope he picks up. Please… Morrison, please be there…

She gets a hold of her phone on the outside pocket of her small handbag and presses number one on the keypad. It’s a good thing that her phone was on silent mode so the thugs won’t hear her making a call. She can feel it vibrate as Morrison’s phone rings on the other side.

Morrison hears his phone ringing and starts looking for it. He quickly takes it out of pant pocket and frantically glances at who’s calling and sees his mother’s number.

“Oh thank God! Hello, mother? Where are you?” he asks right away upon pressing the “answer” button. “Mom? Mom? Are you there? Are you all right? Mom, answer me!” he exclaims, feeling frustrated because she wasn’t answering him.

He’s been looking for her all day after she stood him up with their lunch date, which was about seven hours ago. At first, he didn’t think any of it until he couldn’t reach her. He called her many times but no one was picking up, it just kept ringing. He called the police, who were of no help whatsoever, telling him that forty-eight hours must elapse before they can even declare her missing. He just grew tired and frustrated that he finally gave up after an hour of pleading them. He contacted his personal investigators and had them scour the city of her whereabouts. Then one of his private investigators reported that his mother’s driver had just turned up at their house, saying that he was drugged somehow and was knocked out for hours. He couldn’t do anything else but to wait for any word from her. He cancelled his affairs at the office for the whole day and also for the rest of the month, knowing that he would need to focus on his family before their businesses. He assigned some people he trusted and whom Nick trusted to oversee the affairs as he takes a hiatus from work.

He drove back and forth from the hospital and their house and to their other properties to look for her. He had also called in a favor from a friend at the DMV’s office who owed him and had him look out for his mother’s car. So far, for the next seven hours, nothing had turned up that would lead them to his mother’s current whereabouts or where she had been until she, herself, called him.

“Mom! If you can’t talk, do something… make a sound, a cough, anything!” he says to the receiver but still, Linda does not respond. Then he listens carefully and hears people talking indistinctly. He gets his other phone and dials 911. While he listens in to his mother’s line, he tells the police that his mother might be in potential danger and needed someone to track the call and pinpoint the location of her phone.

Thankfully, the person on the other line follows his instructions and proceeds to getting Linda’s number. The minutes tick by as the person on the 911-hotline waits for the trace while Linda’s phone is still on. Then the unfortunate thing happens when Linda’s phone suddenly dies. The call drops to Morrison’s horror.

“Wait lady, my mom’s phone disconnected! Shit! Hold on, I’ll try to get her back. Shit! I hope she answers,” he says to the 911 responder and the lady agrees to his actions and patiently waits for him to tell her any update.

He dials the number again for the fourth time but the phone’s battery must have drained from all the missed calls she had gotten from him.

“Damn it! I can’t- I can’t get back… What do I do now? Have you traced where the call came from?” he asks the operator as she asks the same thing from a person on another line, which must have been the police who started tracing the call.

“I’m sorry sir, the call was too short for us to track and pinpoint its exact location,” she answers regrettably.

“Fuck! What am I supposed to do now? Will you finally send out an APB on her? She’s clearly in danger and not in good condition, that’s why she couldn’t talk. Have someone come to my house now and report that I want a manhunt done. I can’t have my mother missing out there somewhere! She’s sixty-one for crying out loud!” he shouts over the phone, feeling guilty afterwards for he knows that it wasn’t the operators fault but he also knows that he needs to have a show of force and use his influence to get his mother back.

“Right away, Mr. McElroy,” answers the operator.

After about ten minutes, a patrol car comes around his building and proceeds to his suite. They discuss among themselves some strategies in finding his mother and to know what might be the motive for her kidnapping, which is what they are considering although no demands have been made yet to Morrison or to the police.

“Do you know of someone who might be an enemy to your mother, specifically?” one of the officers, Officer Ford, asks him while scribbling something in his notepad.

“Well, Officer Ford, I’m sure you all know that in the world of business, we have enemies on all sides… that being said, I can think of several who might have a motive but if my suspicions are correct, they would have to target my father for it or me, for that matter… Not my mother. She has lots of charitable institutions that she advocates and supports… I can’t possibly think of -,” he pauses then realizes how stupid he has become. “Of course! Shit! How could I have not seen this sooner!” he exclaims to himself as the two officers look at each other.

“What couldn’t you have seen sooner, Mr. McElroy?” Officer Ford asks.

“Gia… Gia de Grassi. If there were someone who would be that mad at my mother, it would be her. I’m sure of it!” he bangs his fist on the table and looks at the officers with angry eyes. “Find out what she’s been up to and you’ll know that she is the culprit here. Please, officers, you have to find out where that woman hid my mother.”

“We will, Mr. McElroy. Do you know the whereabouts of this Gia de Grassi?” the other officer asks, poising his pen on the notepad to take down whatever Morrison would tell him.

“Umm… Well, as far as I know, she left for Europe a few weeks ago… But I know its her. She must have come back or had some men take my mother. She is still rich as far as I know so she wouldn’t have any problems getting people desperate for money, do her bidding.”

“Okay, we will find out more about this de Grassi woman and let you know as soon as we have anything. In the meantime, we must advise you to stay at your home or office and always keep your phone open. If your mother was really kidnapped or held against her will, then we assume that they would be making some calls soon. We need you to be by your phone at all times. Here,” Officer Ford takes out a device and places it on the table. “This will allow you to trace any calls that would go through your home phone line. We’ll set it up for you right now and test it so we could make sure that it records and traces any calls that will come in.”

Morrison thanks them and allows them to set up the tracking device in his study. He also wants another one installed in his office to ensure that they cover all bases. He walks around while the officers install and test the device then sees a report on the television about a bombing in Paris, France. He takes a double look at the television and sees the Eiffel Tower in the background of the American reporter making his nighttime update on the terrorist bombing in France.

“There is no news yet as to who and what group of terrorists had ordered the attack. The death toll has risen to a hundred and twelve people while three hundred and fifty-nine people are still injured. There are also around fifty people more missing according to their families. The police are doing their best to take control of the situation and rescue all the victims of this heinous crime against humanity. Bob Norton, Nightly News,” the reporter finishes.

“What the hell…,” he gasps, taking a sit on the chair beside the television. “What happened in Paris?” he asks no one in particular but Officer number two answers him.

“There was a terrorist bombing at one of the busy streets in Paris, Mr. McElroy. We were alerted an hour ago about it and the whole police department and other agencies are on high alert as we speak. It is suspected that ISIS members were the ones who blew the street up. The situation there is devastating… The street was lined with coffee shops and other stores that are frequented by locals and tourists alike…,” Officer number two shakes his head slightly and sighs. “It’s just a sad day for France and for all of us really…”

Morrison is still in shock and his head is reeling from the thought that Cornelia is in Paris at that very moment… Then he tries to recall his conversation with his man in Paris, who said that Cornelia and Barret are staying at a hotel in the city but he doesn’t know exactly the location of the hotel or if it is within the proximity of the blast.

I have to contact Theo. I have to know where she is at this moment. I can’t risk her getting hurt too, especially now that I am halfway around the world…, he thinks to himself, momentarily forgetting why the officers were there in the first place then remembers that they are also looking for his mother. He looks around and asks outloud.

“Are you done with the tracker? I need to place a call myself,” he politely says.

“Of course, Mr. McElroy. Yes, we are done here. We’ll let you know what we dig up about Gia de Grassi and please let us know if you receive a call from anybody suspicious. It would help us greatly if we are able to know what they want.”

“I will officers. Thank you for your time.” He politely closes the door after them and proceeds to call Theo. “What the hell is the time there anyway?” he asks himself outloud then checks his watch. It’s just close to eight in the evening. He tries to think about the time difference then gives up and calls up Theo    anyway. He doesn’t care if he’s sleeping or in the toilet. He needs to know where Cornelia is and how she’s doing.

“Oh God! Why are these things happening right now?” he exclaims, looking up at the ceiling as if he is looking up at the skies above. He remembers what he said to Nick only a few hours ago, before he went off looking for Linda.

“Dad… please wake up… Please come back to us. I need you… we need you. I can’t find mom yet but I swear I will. I will move heaven and earth to find her and also so that you would wake up. I – I don’t know if I…,” he paused and swallowed a lump in his throat. “I don’t know if I can do this alone, dad. I need your help. I’m in quite a pickle here and it would be of great help if you could wake up from your, ah, vacation, and help me out,” he chuckled, trying to make light of the dismal situation.

Only the beeping of the monitors with tubes attached to Nick’s body made a sound in the room. Morrison was almost out of options but he was hopeful that Linda would turn up at the end of the day, talking incessantly at how she  forgot about the luncheon and that she got lost in her shopping frenzy, then flopping on the sofa and finally smiling up at him and shushing him for worrying about her. She was always like that and it comforts Morrison for a while that she might have just really gone out and forgot about their date… But knowing his mother, she would always call after an hour or so after a missed engagement and apologize profusely for it. And she didn’t do any of that in the last few hours. So Morrison said goodbye to his father and drove around city then driving home in frustration. He wanted to take a shower and get something to eat before setting out again when he got the call from Linda’s phone.

As he waits for Theo to pick up the phone, he feels all the more worried and scared for Cornelia’s safety as well as his mother’s. He feels as if the world is just crumbling all around him that it’s suffocating him. He holds on to his composure and finally hears a “Hello” from the other side of the line.

Theo’s sleepy voice comes on the line with a weak greeting and Morrison could almost picture him just waking up from his deep sleep.

“Theo! Thank God you’re there. Is Cornelia still in… what’s the name of the hotel… is it anywhere near of Paris? Is she still at the hotel that James always stayed at in Paris? What’s the name of the hotel?” he asks frantically as Theo’s sleepy voice echoes from the other line, seemingly confused and still half asleep. Theo looks at his bedside clock and sees the time.

“Morrison?” he asks then yawns. “It’s two in the morning. Why- Why are you calling this early man?”

“Theo, it’s important to tell me where Cornelia is right now at this very moment! For the love of God, just please answer my question!” Morrison’s frustrated voice resonates and jolts Theo to full wakefulness.

He clears his throat and answers, “Yes, she’s still in that hotel. As I told you this morning… oh right, yesterday I mean. What is this about? Why are you asking all of these questions all of a sudden when you sounded like you didn’t even care where she was earlier?” he asks, suddenly thinking why Morrison could possibly be asking for her again. He thought that Morrison just wanted her to be followed but to not interfere or watch so closely, just enough that he knows that she’s safe from whoever wanted to hurt her. Morrison told him about her abduction a few weeks ago and the near miss on her life. And that was the whole reason why Morrison hired him, to protect her and to dispose any of those who might make an attempt on her life again.

I need to know what he wants or I’ll never get any sleep, he sits up and rubs his eyes to ward off sleep.

“Haven’t you heard of the bombing in Paris? Quick, watch the news and find out, and Theo,” Morrison pauses and waits for Theo’s response.

“Yes?” he answers.

“No matter what happens, don’t let Cornelia go near that bombing site, at least until its safe that is. Go on, watch the news. I’ll be calling you again in the morning, well, around midday for you. Keep me posted. I have to go. Thanks, Theo,” Morrison doesn’t wait for Theo’s response and clicks off.

“What the hell is he talking about?” Theo looks for the remote control underneath the covers and turns on the flat screen television in his hotel room, a luxury that Morrison had afforded him for watching over Cornelia. She is staying at the Four Seasons Hotel, just a few blocks from where he is staying himself and it just takes him a ten-minute walk to get to the hotel.

The news comes on and Theo’s attention stays with that television news show until the wee hours of the morning. He couldn’t believe what he is seeing. The whole city is in chaos because of what happened in the streets of Boulevard Saint Germain. He has just gone to that part of the city last Monday, when the girl wanted to have a little bit of the flavors of the city and she found herself wandering in those parts. It’s usually crowded, especially by tourists and locals alike because of the many food varieties offered to the public and one could really feel the culture of the city in those parts.

He sees people, young and old, being carried off in stretchers and to ambulances as the reporter keeps on detailing some of the events that happened. They don’t know for sure yet where the bomb had originated because the police are concentrating their efforts on the search and rescue operations that they have deployed. Almost all police and medical personel were ordered to go to the scene as the bomb experts continue to search for the origin of the bomb. There have been no other explosion from the first one but the police are afraid that there might be a secondary one, as was one of the tactics of terrorist groups.

Theo grabs his pants and his sweater. He puts on his bonnet and coat and heads off towards the boulevard. He rushes to the scene, running instead of getting a cab because he knows for sure that traffic would be terrible and cars would be at a standstill because of the massive explosion. He pants as he recalls the reporter’s words about the radius of the blast. It explosion took out a quarter of the boulevard but thankfully, the blast did not reach the bridge of the River Siene. If it did, it would be catastrophic. The death toll continues to rise as the night wears on and the injured and missing are also continuously rising, turning the city into a state of panic.

Theo passed some people loading their cars and driving out of the neighboring streets but he continues to run towards the scene. It takes him a few minutes but he finally sees the firetrucks and ambulances lining the road. The military man in him won’t let him just be an expectator but be a participant in the search and rescue efforts of the police. They don’t seem to mind as many of the residents are lending their hands in helping the injured and looking for their loved ones. He lifts the yellow tape lining the edge of the scene and proceeds to helping lift and move heavy objects from the buildings. They pull out a man from underneath a rubble of cement and sees that he’s still breathing.

“Medic here! There’s a man injured here,” he shouts then as soon as he sees an EMT responder spot them and is running towards them, he focuses his eyes on another part of the street where lots of people have gathered in lifting a huge chunk of steel that had covered one part of an establishment, probably a café or shopping store. They heave in unison and grunts can be heard from the men who are trying to get the huge barrier off the space below. When they finally lift the steel bar, they see around five or six people buried underneath a pile of rocks and other materials that have come off from the roof. The steel bar was holding up the roof and prevented it from completely collapsing. The steel bar had actually saved the people underneath it as the firemen secures the collapsing roof and the medical team rushes in to check the vitals of those hunched on the ground.

Theo wipes a trickle of sweat from his brow and feels relieved that all the people underneath are alive with just minor injuries.

“M-merci Monsieur…,” one of the people who were buried says to him in French. He looks about fifty years old and has graying hair.

He looks at him, stunned at his show of gratitude and just nods in response. He just did what anyone would do, save those that he could. No man left behind… Then his memory shifts to a different place and time when  he was younger and still in the military. It was a harsh life and he had so many friends… brothers… who fell and died during the early battles in Afghanistan. He had three trips there and after the last one, he vowed never to go back again. He couldn’t take it anymore… But his killing nature had never totally gone away and so he channeled it into something more productive and lucrative. During his early retirement months, he suffered PTSD and never got any decent sleep for months. He went to several psychologists but they never really helped with anything. Until he accidentally shot a would-be assassin of a prominent politician in his hometown. He felt good in protecting people and it also somehow fulfilled the inexplicable instinct he still carried even after the war. The feeling of always looking over his shoulder, he presumed, will never leave him. There was also the feeling of always keeping his gun near at all times. They say, one can never take away the training and ruthlessness that was instilled in a person during their military days and it is true to that day for Theo. He will never get rid of his killing nature but he can always kill those who are not worthy of the lives they have.

He moves on to the next block and starts assisting storeowners salvage what they can from their shops. It’s a dismal sight but the looks of gratitude from the people around him fill him with another kind of feeling, content.

 

 

 

Chapter III

 

There was a loud bang from outside as Cornelia sits up in her bed, startled and confused. She looks around and remembers that she’s in her hotel suite at the Four Seasons Hotel.

This particular suite was the very same one that James always stayed in whenever he was in Paris. The hotel was gracious enough to still honor his memory and gave her the suite as well vowing that they would always have it reserved for a Wilson. She was very thankful and got a little teary eyed when she got inside the hotel suite. She noticed pictures that lined the shelves as she  went inside the big room. All the pictures were of her – a picture that they took during the first few times he took her out to diner in not-so-fancy restaurants because he knew that she was not comfortable in crowded places, another photo of her laughing over something they saw during one of their walks in Central Park, and other photographs of her that she didn’t even know existed. He had kept it all…

She lovingly touched the photographs and proceeded further into the suite. It consisted of two bedrooms, a spacious living room equipped with a fireplace and a small study, and finally, a grand terrace with a wonderful view of the city below. It was breathtaking that she had to pinch herself to know that everything was real. She had never imagined herself standing on a terrace of a five-star hotel, breathing in the cold air and feeling it surround her body as if it was welcoming her into another abode that James had always considered a home. She closed her eyes then and thought of him – of his warm smile and his ever-ready words of comfort. She had never let him be close enough to her that she would spill all her fears and thoughts to, but she wasn’t aloof as well. She had trusted him fully with her life even during the time that they had just known each other for a few weeks. But she couldn’t bring herself to be totally open to him, she always held back, she always kept bits and pieces to herself. Not because she didn’t trust him to know her whole personality and character, but because she was afraid that she didn’t even know who she really was. She didn’t even know then that Nick was her father and due to Julie being secluded, she didn’t have anybody else close to her apart from her mother. It was one of her regrets, in the end… That she never told James what she really felt about him taking her in and treating her like she was his own family, because, as it turned out, she really was. She wasn’t angry at him even after she knew what happened to her mother and James when she wasn’t born yet. She had difficulty during the first week, settling in because the excitement of being at a different country and a different time zone was still keeping her awake at night. She talked to Barret about their plans while they were there and he agreed that they should inform the board of directors right away that she wanted to meet them. So they scheduled a conference meeting the week after they arrived in Paris. And it was a total disaster…

“So do you think you can run three major companies at your age, Ms. Wilson?” asked Mr. Jacques, one of the members of the board of the umbrella company, T.W. Industries, after they had the formalities of introductions and condolences that went around the room.

She was taken aback by his straightforward question and looked to Barret for strength. She knew that it would not be easy to convince the board that she was more than capable of running her grandfather’s companies but she always thought that the board members might not be too hard on her given that she just lost her only family. But she was greatly mistaken.

“Um, I, ah,” she started stammering.

“Well, as far as Mr. Wilson’s opinion, the young miss can be capable of running his companies smoothly given that she gets proper guidance and direction from capable people such as you, kind sirs, meaning the board of the different companies.” Kevin spoke up all of a sudden with so much confidence that the board members actually looked at him and listened.

Cornelia and Barret looked at each other with a puzzled expression but both kept quiet as Kevin went on. He began with telling the board what he thought about James all the years that they’ve been together, which was more than ten years. It was more than any of the board members simply because the members have changed over the years – some replacing their fathers and mothers to continue their legacy.

Surprisingly, the board did listen to him ramble on. There were even instances that some nodded in agreement over what James thought about his company and whenever Kevin highlighted the boss’ leadership styles.

Barret came closer to Cornelia and whispered, “Wow. Are you sure he’s not vying to be James’ adopted son?” then snorted sarcastically.

She shssd him and went back to listening to Kevin.

“… and that is why we are here today, to welcome Miss. Cornelia Lewis Wilson, the heir and only living relative of the late Mr. James Tudor Wilson. He has spent almost half of his life looking for her and now that she is with us, he would expect us to treat her with utmost respect that she deserves, just like how we respected Mr. W himself,” Kevin finished then turned to Cornelia with a smile and clapping his hands as he did so.

The others followed suit with the clapping and smiles. She looked at the members and nodded to them as a form of her thanks.

“I appreciate all of your hospitality and I understand your apprehensions and reservations about me and how I would impact the companies that my grandfather had built. I confidently tell you now that I will do my very best in continuing his legacy and, hopefully, give even more honor and contributions to these great ventures. I may not be old enough to have garnered all the experiences and training that you’re looking for, but I have the heart and the determination to learn them in a very short span of time… with your teachings, of course,” she said to them, addressing each and every member of that conference table.

One of the members, the one right next to Mr. Jacques, Mr. Han she thought his name was, spoke up and said, “Well, I think Kevin, here, has known James the longest so it would be wise to have him in your counsel, Ms. Wilson. He knows all the comings and goings in all these three companies for he has been James’ right hand ever since I could remember. I think he would be a good addition to your team, don’t you think?” he addressed the whole room and they all agreed with his suggestion.

She smiled to all of them and back to Kevin. “Of course, Mr. Han. I would be very lucky indeed to have Kevin instruct me apart from being my constant companion. I know that he is very knowledgeable with the business details and the daily routine James had when he was here overseeing everything. Kevin? If you would do me the honor of being my advisor, I would very much appreciate it,” she directed her statement at Kevin who beamed with pride at her asking him formally in front of everybody. His plan was panning out. He’s convinced the board that he was a man to be trusted with that kind of job. Just a little bit more of failure on Cornelia’s side and he would very well be the head of the board.

“Oh! You can’t possibly ask me to be YOUR right-hand, Miss W?” he asked.

Barret was beginning to get annoyed at James’ driver who managed to deceive the people inside the room. He looked Kevin and he knew for sure that he was playing coy and wanted Cornelia to ask him again.

“Oh you-!” he began but Cornelia spoke up at the same time and used her arm to stop him from advancing towards Kevin.

“Kevin,” she started, “you are an invaluable person to be around because of your knowledge in James’ business and most importantly, because of your deep relationship with my grandfather. I can never thank you enough for keeping him company all these years that he didn’t have his own family beside him. I am happy to know that he spent all those years with a trusted and a dear friend. Please, be there for me too so we can both continue his work.”

Everybody in the room grew silent, one could almost hear a pin drop, and then Kevin cleared his throat and graciously accepted what Cornelia offered.

After the meeting was adjourned, Kevin excused himself and proceeded to his errand while Barret and Cornelia went back to the hotel. She wanted to take a bit of rest before they went out to diner like what they have been doing for the past few weeks. They were dinner buddies – not a date of lovers, but of two friends.

Barret warned her one more time before they went in their respective rooms, “Cornelia, listen to me, I think it’s a big mistake to let Kevin dictate what you do. I don’t trust that guy anymore. I thought I knew him before… when James was still alive, but now, I am not sure what he wants. I do know that he wants to be more than just your driver or right-hand. Sooner or later, he might be the one taking over your companies. You have to be careful.”

She just looked at him with tired eyes and said softly, “Maybe he is better at this than I am, Barret… I mean, let’s face it, I never wanted this in the first place but since James trusted me to see this through, I am trying my best to see it through. Besides, Kevin did help Morrison in saving my life so that’s gotta account to something, right? He could have chosen to let me die at the hands of those thugs so he could just take advantage of James in the end… But he didn’t. Whatever is with Kevin’s intentions, I know he is not a bad person. Maybe he’s just driven by money or whatever it is that’s twisting his mind. But I’ll make him change his mind about going against me. I won’t fight him with the same strategy he is using against me. I’ll just be who I am… who is a person that James had trusted and would make sure that his legacy lives on, which is, by the way, is not only his string of companies… It’s his kindness,” she finished saying and her words got Barret to look at her in awe and just nod.

“You have an old soul, Cornelia. Even though you’re young and inexperienced in many things, you are more than capable of showing compassion. I admire you for that kid,” he said, smiling and giving her a bear hug. “Now, off with you. Go and rest. And if you want, we could just get room service so we don’t have to go out. We could watch movies you like,” he beamed.

“Oh, Barret, that would be wonderful!” she sighed, feeling relieved that Barret suggested the very thing she wanted the most, curl up in bed and watch old movies with a good friend.

They agreed to have their movie night in her room after a couple of hours of rest. Barret wanted to check up on his apartment and furniture business back in the US so he surmised that his phone calls would keep him busy for at least an hour.

After their talk in the hallway, she happily waltzed in her suite and as soon as she closed the door, almost ran to her bed and plopped herself on it like a little girl.

“Ahhh… I just want to lie down the whole day and eat lots of the delicious hotel food,” she said outloud. Something, which, of course, she berates herself in doing because she wants to stay healthy and fit… But that doesn’t mean she can’t have a cheat day or days…

She took a long bath and relished in the luxurious bathroom of her suite. She closed her eyes and thought about the days she didn’t even shower because she didn’t want to get beat up again by those mean kids in her orphanage. She had come a long way since then. And if it wasn’t for James, she would still be roaming the streets and might have ended up living in the streets or worse, dying in it.

James, I’m sorry I didn’t even tell you how much you meant to me. All those years that you’ve held yourself back from telling me the truth… I wish you could have… I would have had more time with you as a proper grandchild and I would have opened up more to you instead of keeping myself back. Now, you’ve gone too soon and I’m left alone once again…

Then a thought entered her mind and she allowed herself to look back at her lost love as well. She misses him everyday. She longed to see him and she might have gone to see him on her last night in New York if she gave into her feelings but she decided to sit on that park bench and while away the time. She wondered what he might be doing at that very moment, if he was thinking of her as well or going about his busy days.

And Nick, her father… from the last she’s heard about him through her old boss, Joana, he was still in a coma but they are positive that he’ll make a full recovery. Her heart aches for not being there for her father. Eventhough he doesn’t know that she is his daughter, she still wanted to be by his side and help him pull through, but the circumstances they were in wasn’t making it possible for them to be together as a family. Also, Morrison doesn’t know the truth as well. She wasn’t sure what his reaction would be if he knew that they are actually step-siblings. Not that it mattered to her since they are not really blood relatives, but still, their relationship might take a turn for the better or worse, once he finds out about their connection.

After another hour, Barret came and brought lots of junk food that they munched while watching Casablanca and then Gone With The Wind. It must have taken them the whole night to watch both movies and Barret ended up sleeping on the comfortable couch on the corner of Cornelia’s bedroom.

She tiptoed to him and brought him a blanket as she turned off the television. She went to her terrace and looked out to the cold Parisian skyline. The view was breathtaking and she couldn’t be more thankful for her life and where she was at that moment. She vowed that she would make things work with the companies and with Kevin as well. She wasn’t a naïve little girl that she doesn’t feel and see Kevin’s plans in bringing her down. She knew that he was hatching a plan to possibly jeopardize her claim on T.W. Industries but instead of taking him out and plotting her own revenge on him, she decided to be the better person and forget all about getting back at him for what he was trying to do to her. She would watch his plans unfold but she won’t let herself be vulnerable and unprotected. Once Kevin sees that what he’s trying to do would never work, she would give him another chance to change and work for her still… But if he doesn’t change his ways, she would have to let him go.

She went back inside and thought about the next steps she would need to make in their game of getting ahead. Kevin won the first battle that day, but she would make sure to win the next one. And with that thought, she turned in for the night and dreamt of faraway places and a hand that reached out to her… it was Morrison.

The next morning, she went straight to the other offices, first to the shipping line and talked with the people in-charge. She had Kevin drive her to the places where they need to meet with other personnel regarding the status of the shipping line. She made it a point to be open with the heads of the different committees and told them that she was very new in that kind of role and would need all their help to make things work for all of them. She had impressed most of the people she met with at the shipping line and gained their support in her quest to be better at overseeing them. She promised to address their concerns and also make sure to tell the whole board about their struggles.

“I believe that you are the foundation of this company,” she said, addressing the workers and officers, “and I know that my grandfather knew this and recognized your hard work. You can rest assure that I will follow his footsteps and ensure that you are all taken care of, especially your families.” She paused and decided to be very honest with them. “James was the only family I had left but I didn’t know it until his very last moments on this earth. If I could do it all over again, I would have spent more time with him even if I hadn’t known the truth. Family doesn’t always mean blood, most of the time, they are those who are completely unrelated to you but treats you as one. I hope that I have made my point that I am your family and you are mine…”

A thunderous applause ensued as the workers all cheered for her. She smiled and thanked them again for their support and appreciation. Even Kevin was impressed with her speech and her conviction in the things she said. He couldn’t help but admire the young woman who was turning out to be much like her grandfather. But little did Cornelia know, he was not buying her talk.

But I bet she’s just saying that for show, Kevin smirked. Let’s see how long you can put up with your charade…

“That was a great speech! They totally believed every single word you said!” Kevin jeered at her as they made their way to the car.

Barret couldn’t accompany her that day because he had a meeting with a prospective client who was also one of the board members whom he met at the meeting. She was glad that someone was interested with doing business with him even if they are literally thousands of miles apart when Barret goes back to the states. He was so excited that he didn’t even finish breakfast in his haste to meet the businessman.

“It’s not just a speech, Kevin, it’s the truth. I fully intend to honor what I have said here and in all the places that we have gone and would still be going to. I am not doing this just for show, Kevin. I hope that you sincerely believe and understand what I’m trying to do. And I sincerely hope that you join me in on this. Do I have your back, Kevin? Can I count on you?” she asked sincerely, not knowing what his answer would be and she doesn’t also know if he would honor his reply to her question. She just wanted to be open to Kevin and show him that she’s just being real.

“Of course, Ms. W. I had James’ back before and I surely have yours,” he answered and smiled but she saw that the smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“Okay then. Thank you. Shall we go to the next office? I want to finish all the locations of the shipping lines in the next few days and then, we can move on to the other two companies next week. I do plan to hold a gathering of some sort, you know, to bring all of us together in one party, let’s just say. I want to hold this at James’ house in Etretat, if that’s okay. Do you think many would come?” she asked. She actually thought of doing the gathering first before going to each satellite office but decided to do the visits first to get to know them more intimately at the start and then bring them all together after she has made her rounds.

“That would be a great idea, Ms. W. I would gladly inform the heads of the departments to require everyone to attend at your request,” he answered quickly. Yeah, make them all come. Inconvenience them and show them how luxurious your life is while they slave each day to make a living. That’ll greatly tip the scale in my favor. He laughed inside and kept a straight face while she thought about what he said.

“I don’t want to require them to come. I want this all to be voluntary. If they can’t come then I would understand. Tell you what. Let’s not do the party in Etretat, why not do it in one of our warehouses in the city? It would be a great money-saver for them because they don’t have to travel that far, plus, we’re utilizing the empty warehouses, you know, putting them in good use. Maybe if people saw that I’m trying to save up for them, not spending extravagantly on this party and put those funds into their salaries instead, they would trust me more. What do you think?”

Damn it! Why does this girl have a brain in the first place?

“That’s up to you Ms. W. Whatever suits you is fine by me,” he responded less enthusiastically.

“I want your opinion, Kevin. What’s the point of appointing you as my advisor if I hear your advice, right? Please,” she came closer and placed her palm on his crossed arms, “help me out. I don’t know what they want me to be as their leader and this gathering would bring me closer to them and them to each other. I am not sure if they even know the people they work with or for. The board members are not really the forthcoming type and this would be a great avenue for them to interact with the workers and vice versa. I think we need this.”

Kevin sighs and shakes his head. I hate that she’s right! If I ever want this company to thrive the moment I get it from her hands, then I guess I should back her up in her plans to make things better between the workers and shareholders.

“Okay, fine. I think that doing it in the warehouse would be better than holding it in Etretat. I think that the people, especially the workers, would appreciate you trying to reach out to them and connect with  them personally, aside from work stuff. And the shareholders would have a better perspective about the business if they hear real issues and stories from the workers themselves. But you have to be careful that this doesn’t turn out to be an open discussion of issues and solutions. You have to stress out to them that this is a social gathering and not a platform for complaints. Assure them that there would be a better and different time for that.”

Wow, he really does know what he’s saying. I just hope that he’s not walking me into a trap with this one. But I can’t to anything but to trust him on this. With a sigh, she nodded in agreement and went inside the car. They were to make two more stops for that day  and then she can go back to the hotel.

After a few hours, they finally drove back to the hotel but she asked to be dropped by the park near the hotel. “I’d like to take a few minutes and just take a stroll at the park, Kevin, if that’s all right. I’ll be along shortly.”

Kevin dropped her off and drove to the hotel where he was also staying at. Since Kevin was officially promoted to her counsel, he didn’t have to drive her around himself but during the first week, he insisted on doing so until they find a replacement for him.

She took her time going through the path that the park had and looked at the runners making their way across the man-made pond in the middle of the park. She missed running and feeling the wind in her hair. She hasn’t gone running since the time she went with Morrison to his family’s old house in the Hamptons. She promised to run for at least a few days each week after that but with everything that’s happened since then, she never got the time to do it.

“I must get back to my routine. I miss running so much…,” she whispered to herself as she sat on a wooden bench facing the green grass where children were playing and laughing about.

An unfamiliar male voice asked her something in French. She looked at him, puzzled but then he gestured to the bench and she understood what he wanted. She told him she didn’t speak French and thankfully, the guy switched to English with a British accent. She was pleasantly surprised for she always admired people sporting a British accent. She wished she had one but she couldn’t even imitate one if she tried.

The guy made her laugh by pointing out what he saw her do as she was sitting there, looking so lot in thought and disconnected from the world. She indulged herself a few laughs and then proceeded to leave. The man apologized for being forward but she assured him that she just needed to go. For the life of her, she actually gave him her first name when he asked because he looked like someone who wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose. She developed the habit of observing people in the past and having her first impressions on them, which were usually right. And her first impression of the guy was that he had had a hard life but looked like he wanted to have another shot at life. He definitely had a sense of humor, which he used on her, but she felt like it was scripted somehow or planned just to use it for her enjoyment. Whatever his reason or purpose was, she liked that he got her to laugh.

A complete stranger, imagine that… she thought as she walked back to the hotel. But something tells me that there is something more with him looking for a park bench when there were dozens of them surrounding the park, she thought to herself as she spotted an empty one just a few feet from where she sat. I better be more careful around people. Not everyone can be trusted, no matter how charming and funny they may be.

The moment she reached the hotel, Barret was there to greet her in the hallway towards her suite.

“There you are! I was thinking of going to the park myself when I saw you get out of the elevator. So, how was your day?” he asked looking happy more than the usual.

“How did you know I was in the park? Oh, did you see Kevin. He must have told you then.” He nodded and followed her into her suite.

“Yeah, I saw him at the lobby earlier. What were you doing in the park anyway? You know its not safe to go off by yourself. I’m not being your fatherly-type friend, but I am your friend and I need to be sure you’re safe at all times.”

“Okay, okay, Dad,” she chided, rolling her eyes. “I just needed a few minutes of fresh air and to slow down. Ever since we got here, I’ve been all over the city, visiting and holding conferences and talks with people I’ve just met. It… It gets tiring, you know,” she sighed and plopped down on the sofa.

He sat beside her and placed his arms around her shoulder. “I know kiddo. And you deserve every chance of rest you get… All I’m saying is, please do it here or ask me to go with you next time. Please?” He made a pleading face and she laughed at his attempt of humor.

“Sure, I will but you have got to stop making that face, Barret. I swear you do not look convincing at all!” she said as Barret chuckled. “How about you? How was the prospective client?”

“Well, that’s what I wanted to tell you the moment you walked in… It went great and I have acquired a huge client who wants me to start producing furniture for them as soon as possible. I showed them my portfolio and they loved it! But Cornelia?” he said with a mellowed tone.

“Yes? What is it?” she asked, afraid that something had gone wrong with their transaction.

“I have to fly back to the states tonight… I need to get things in order. But I will be back in a month! I just need to hire some people and train them a bit to make the pieces I’ve already made. I promise, I’ll just be gone a month or less. I’ll be right back here in a jiffy.”

“Barret, of course it’s okay! Please, go home and make your furniture. I don’t want you to stop what you love doing just because you want to watch out for me. I am not a teenager okay. I can take care of myself. Please, go. What time is your flight anyway?” She grabbed two glasses and poured some wine into them.

“In three hours. I was lucky to book one of the last trips out. I really appreciate this Cornelia. If it  weren’t for you holding that meeting, I would never have bumped into Mr. Kahn who introduced me to my client,” he said, taking a small sip of the wine.

“Oh please, Barret. Don’t thank me. It was all your doing! Cheers and congrats on this new client!” she said raising her glass as he clinked it with his own. It was proving to be a day of great surprises.

After they had celebrated for an hour, he had to say goodbye to pack up and finally, go to the airport. They hugged and promised to call whenever they can.

“I promise to be right back here once I’ve settled everything there. Please don’t go off by yourself again. As much as I hate it, take Kevin with you or anyone you trust. It’s not safe anywhere Cornelia,” he reminded her again and then took off with a company car towards the airport.

She sighed and waved to him as the car drove away. She’s going to miss him but she didn’t want to keep him here far longer than he should. He has a life back there and I hope that Sally has thought things through and goes back to him, she thought to herself.

Barret had spilled the beans regarding Sally, Morrison’s ex whom Linda had manipulated and threatened so she’d leave him. She was the same person whom Morrison was hugging when she was on her way out of the hospital after James passed away. Barret explained to her who Sally really was and what she had to go through at the hands of Morrison’s cruel mother. She couldn’t believe what Barret told her but she hasn’t met the infamous Linda McElroy yet so she couldn’t really make up her mind about her yet. She just listened with an open heart and felt bad that Sally had gone through that ordeal. After Barret gave her another perspective about the woman, she finally understood what she saw at the hospital. She felt bad for accusing Morrison and for getting mad at the woman. But, it still didn’t change the fact that Morrison had chosen to push her away and say those hurtful words at her. She still has not gotten over what she felt when Morrison broke her heart. She needed more time to be apart from him. Besides, if they were back together, she didn’t think she could fulfill James’ duties to the best of her abilities for she would have to consider Morrison and the distance that would be between them with her working in Europe and him, staying in New York.

So she decided to go on without him anyway. She was beginning to believe that if she allows herself to feel happy, something happens to the people around her. When she fell in love with Morrison and forgot all about her plots about getting her revenge on his family, James died. She begun getting it in her head that she is better off alone, just to go on and fulfill her family duty of taking care of the companies James had left her. But who would continue on after her if she doesn’t find someone to have a family with?

I guess I could find someone in the future and just marry for convenience. Or maybe after everything, I could finally find someone who would understand me and won’t make me any empty promises… This was a constant conversation in her head, especially when she stares out into space during her walks or trips to the park. She tries not to think about her love life, or lack of it, as much as possible because she has better things to think about and act on like how to run her family’s companies. She needed to focus on that and even though Barret had left; it doesn’t mean that she would depend everything on Kevin. On the contrary, she needed to be more independent more than ever.

She went back inside and hoped for a better tomorrow. But what she didn’t know was the next day would bring a different kind of test, not only for her, but for a lot of people.

 

The loud bang out of nowhere woke her up and as she sits up to find her bearings, she finds herself in the luxurious suite of the Four Seasons Hotel where James took up residence everytime he was in Paris.

“What was that?” she whispers to herself. She throws back the covers and places her feet on the carpet floor. She realizes that the power must have gone out because the room is in total darkness, except for the moon that shines brightly in the sky outside her room. She listens more intently for any other sound and then she hears sirens from a short distance away. “Oh no, what might that be?” she asks herself, thinking that there might have been an accident near the hotel or something, which caused the power outage.

“Where the heck is my phone anyway?” she hisses as she gropes in the dark. The emergency lights come on and she finally sees her surroundings. Her phone lies on the floor next to her bed that might have fallen off when she was asleep. She picks it up and looks out her window to see what the commotion was all about.

The sirens get louder as she tries to call Kevin on the phone. “Please pick up, Kevin…” She begins to feel concerned because she can hear more sirens and people started shouting down below. She hasn’t gone down to the lobby of the hotel yet for wanted to call Kevin to find out what’s happening first. She might just be overreacting but as the minutes tick by, Kevin still does not answer his phone and the increasing noise outside prompts her to investigate herself. She puts on her jeans, a tee shirt, and comfortable shoes. She grabs her jacket on her way out and gathers her hair in a tight ponytail.

As soon as Cornelia opens her door, she sees people running about the corridor, some with their suitcases while others are still on their robes and nightgowns.

“What’s happening?” she asks the enthusiastic American reporter, Liam, whom she met a few days ago, who just passed her on his way to the elevators. “Why is everybody such a hurry? Is there a fire somewhere?”

“Didn’t you hear? There was a bombing just a few blocks from here, in Boulevard Saint Germain! You have to get out of here now! They’re saying that the terrorists are not done yet. They are still currently roaming the streets to look for other places to bomb. I’m going over there to cover the news but it would be best for you to get out of here Cornelia!” Liam shouts as he enters the elevators.

“Wh-what?” she asks with disbelief. “W-where? Where is the bombing?” she asks again, feeling a little deaf from all the noise around them.

“In Boulevard Saint Germain!” The elevators close as Liam shouted his response.

Cornelia stays rooted in her position in the middle of the hallway as people keep running and bumping into her. It’s as if she is in a trance and is paralyzed all of a sudden. It’s like the time that her mother died. She remembers the sirens of the ambulance as she was taken to the hospital to see her dying mother. That memory paralyzes her at that very moment as she the sirens blare around her. Her room is on the eight floor, one of the duplex suites of that hotel, so she could distinctly hear the cars zooming past the city.

A young man bumps into her and apologizes but continues to proceed to the elevator. She springs to her feet after being rooted there for a few minutes. She runs back to her hotel room to look for something to bring. She fully intends to go to the place where the bombing happened and see what she can do to help. She thinks of calling Barret but decides she will do so once she assesses the situation.

She packs a backpack with a few clothes and a couple of thin blankets. She goes inside the bathroom and grabs a few of the compact flashlights that the hotel stores in the emergency cabinet along with a first aid kit and a few over the counter drugs. She grabs them all and stuffs them in the pack, making sure that they don’t get damaged or else they would be no use to her or the victims she might meet along the way. She is sure that the victims will need some fresh clothing and blankets to ward off the cold night, and especially some drugs for injuries or other ailments. She knows how its like to spend a night on the street with only the clothes on your back and getting sick because of the cold dark night.

After a short while, she goes down to the seventh floor and knocks on Kevin’s door. She waits a few minutes and knocks again but no one answers it. She tries opening it but it’s locked.

“Maybe he went out already. I’ll just give him a call later,” she says to herself then proceeds running down the service stairs to the hotel lobby. The elevators were already so crowded with people who are panicking and wanting desperately to get out the building. There are a couple of people running down the stairs like she is but they pay no mind to one another, each busy with their thoughts and fear gripping their very bones.

Terrorist attacks have been happening in the European sector for years now, first, spreading from the Middle East, and has reached parts of Europe over the last couple of years. But Paris… no one would even dare bomb Paris, right? She thinks to herself as she takes the flight of stairs two at a time as she counts the minutes that tick by. She figures she could try helping those who need shelter and clothing and by first light, she would go to her office and immediately meet with the team that handles emergency reliefs just like what they are experiencing now, and coordinate with other government rescue teams in providing whatever help they can.

As she steps on the last flight of stairs, she quickly pushes open the door leading to the lobby and rushes out of the hotel along with a throng of people. It’s dark outside apart from the light of the moon and it’s slowly being covered by the smoke coming from the boulevard where the blast was. She quickly takes out one of the flashlights she dumped in her backpack a few minutes ago and shines it on the road before her. She checks her watch and it’s only two-thirty in the morning. She looks from side to side and sees people fleeing to all different directions. She remembers her way across the boulevards and decides to run towards Saint Germain.

“Oh, God,” she exclaims as the scene of the bombing slowly surfaces from the smoke-filled roads. It feels like she’s navigating through a war zone. Smoke billows from above and below, making it very impossible to see clearly, let alone run. She slows down and puts her hand in front of her while covering her nose and mouth with the other. She remembers that she has some clothes in her backpack and kneels down to get one to shield her face from the smoke.

She screams as she sees a severed hand on the ground next to her right foot as she kneeled down to rummage through her backpack. She steps a few feet away and quickly grabs a small towel from her pack. She wraps it around her face, concealing her whole face apart from her eyes. She wishes she could have brought some goggles of even reading glasses to protect her eyes from stinging from the smoke but she didn’t bring any. She trudges forward carefully, hearing screams, sirens, and more screams from everywhere. She doesn’t even know where she’s going and what she’s actually doing there, she’s just compelled to go there and try helping those who need help, just like what James had done to her when she was starving in the streets.

“Gramps… Mom… Help me help these people. I know you’re watching over me. Lead me to those who need me the most and give me strength to help them,” she whispers as she tries to block out the blaring police sirens from all around her. A couple of woman brushes past her but kept running towards the direction from whence she came. Cars are strewn all over the street where she is walking on so she steps on the sidewalk to avoid falling into an accident herself. She gets a hold of a stick made of metal. She uses it to pick through the debris and comes to a stop in front of a café where she could hear a woman screaming for help.

“Wait! I’m coming!” she shouts back and tries to remember the French translation for “Please wait”. Her French could barely pass for a beginner but she knows simple words. “S-S’il vous p-plaît… a-attendez!” she says finally and uses her stick to remove the broken chairs and tables in her path. She still has her phone inside her pocket but she needs to get the woman out first before she could even call anybody for help. She can’t waste time in waiting for someone to pick up while the woman might die waiting for her.

She repeats her sentence over and over until she is able to clear a path leading inside the café. She ducks her head low and uses her flashlight to see where the woman is. She sees a hand sticking out from under a wooden cabinet. It flails around asking her to come over and help her. The structure itself threatens to collapse around her but she moves forward and by the time she reaches the hand, the ceiling is only a few inches from her head.

“Aidez moi!” she screams. She says some more in French but Cornelia does not understand but she moves forward, putting down her pack slowly, and edged towards the place where the woman is trapped. The wooden cabinet is not that heavy or thick but it’s the only thing that’s holding up a portion of the house’s roof. It is wedged between the woman and the twisted metal of the G.I. sheets that was once the roof of the whole place.

“Okay… Um… S’il vous p-plaît… I’ll help you, okay,” she says to the woman whose face she can partially see through the holes of the cabinet. She yanks out a lose piece of the wood but carefully holds it up so it won’t give way and take the whole roof down with it.

She spots wooden crates in the corner of the small space and grabs three of them, stacking them up on top of each other to form a makeshift pillar that would hold the roof up so she could remove the cabinet. She is successful and slowly pulls the woman’s arm from the hole she was stuck in and to Cornelia’s surprise, the woman is holding an infant in her arms.

“Oh my God! I-is your baby all right?” she gasps as they make their way out of the café. In a few seconds after they exited the structure, the roof gave way and buried the whole place.

The woman gasps as well but holds her baby close to her. The baby appeared to have been asleep the whole time and just woke up and wailed when the roof made the thunderous sound. The woman thanks her profusely as Cornelia guides her to a waiting ambulance just a few yards from where they stood.

An emergency personel quickly gets the mother and the baby and interviews them while checking them for any injuries. Cornelia is still shaken up but otherwise, unharmed from the whole experience. Another responder took her and gave her s doe of oxygen as she began coughing uncontrollably. She askes how the mother and baby are doing and the nurse responds with a think French accent that both are okay. There are no injuries to the baby and the mother just had a few bumps and bruises. They were alone in the café, which was a family business. The responder also tells her that the husband is actually looking for them and is on his way to them now.

“Thank God! I’m okay… I just need to breathe for a whi-,” she doesn’t finish her sentence for another blast happened a few buildings away from them.

The responders shout orders to each other as some of them starts running towards the recent blast site. The ambulance where they are in starts moving and drives back towards the safe zone.

“Wait, there are more people out there needing help! I can help you. I’m able and I’m not injured… Please, let me help!” she screams to be heard by the responder she was talking with earlier.

“Non madame. Elp eez on ze way,” he says then turns back to the mother and the child. He talks into his walkie-talkie in French as they weave through the fallen debris all over the main road.

Cornelia suddenly feels light-headed and nauseous. She leans her head on the side and passes out. Her last thoughts fleeting through her brain…

Thanks Mom, gramps, for looking after me…

 

 

Chapter IV

 

“Just keep her there until I arrive. I want to look into that bitch’s face before she dies,” Gia says with such hatred in her voice that gives the person on the other line, chills.

Gia’s been waiting a few weeks for this and now that she’s got her chance for retribution, she will savor every second of it. She was given a very attractive proposal by one Miss Cornelia Wilson, James Wilson’s heir as it turned out, to leave the McElroy’s alone and in exchange, she will make sure to fund her old company and make it flourish again. Of course, she had to say yes at that moment. It was a rather generous offering from one promising young heiress. She had every intention to honor her agreement with her until she dug a little deeper and found out who she really is.

From what her birds told her, she was actually Nick McElroy’s long lost daughter and could very well be the heir to the McElroy fortune as well! Given that its rather public knowledge that Morrison is an adopted son because Linda McElroy is a barren woman, it would be guaranteed that Cornelia will get the inheritance once Nick finally kicks the bucket and Linda gets cast aside or if she met an untimely death herself. For a second, she thought that Cornelia might have planned everything all along but Gia saw her and her unassuming personality. There is no way that she could have plotted that great of a plan, to get rid of her enemies by going into partnerships with them, even before she reveals herself and take what is rightfully hers.

To Gia, it was still an advantage if Cornelia does inherit the McElroy legacy and combined with the Wilson’s amassed fortune, she would be one of the richest people in the world! And Gia de Grassi would love to be associated with rich and powerful people. So, she decided to help out the little would-be McElroy heiress and seal Linda’s untimely death. She would never tell Cornelia though but she knows that the young naïve girl would thank her one day and she would gladly reap the rewards of that thank you.

Gia is still in Paris but would be flying out to New York that night to catch a last glimpse of the great Linda McElroy before her body washes off into the Hudson River. She fully intends to end the life of that bitch who started all her pain and suffering. She doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Nick and his coma, in fact, she fervently wishes that he never wakes up or better yet, just stay in that state for the rest of his measly life. Only with Nick fully incapacitated will Cornelia be able to take over, overshadowing that adopted son of theirs. Gia plans to be the one to expose that Cornelia is the daughter of Nick McElroy and she fully expects the police to make a DNA testing, which she has already done and confirmed from the doctors who tested it, that she is a McElroy beyond any doubt.

“She will thank me one day, which she will… Besides, it’s only right for her to take what is hers by birth and this is to repay her for her kindness of offering me a way out, no matter how misguided she is about me.” She laughs and sips her vodka. Her Paris hotel has one of the best views in the city. She moves across the big expanse of the terrace and breathes in the chilly afternoon air. She wonders what lies in store for her that night.

Would Linda finally admit that what she had done was wrong and would she beg Gia for forgiveness?

“I would see you grovel at my feet and beg for my forgiveness… You have given me a life of torment… of pain and destruction…,” she says outloud, letting one tear roll away from her tear ducts and down to her cheeks.

She has always been a strong and independent woman, which got her through the toughest times in her life, like when she lost her father and eventually, lost touch with her mother. Her mother always blamed her for her father’s death and she was right…

“She was right… I was the stupid kid who wanted to go into an adventure and that got my dad killed! I could never forgive myself for what I had done to you, father… I must live my life bearing this guilt inside of me. But she took everything we had, dad! That bitch of a wife took your legacy away and trampled on it! She tainted your name and I was too weak to defend myself! I was helpless and no one would dare touch me after all the lies that she had spread…” she is sobbing now, wracked by the pain that she felt years ago when the whole world turned their back to her and she was forced to live a life of isolation. She never intended to hurt anybody… she just wanted a chance to be happy with Nick. It didn’t matter to her that Nick was married but Linda made sure that she never forgot. Because of her quest for love from a man, she lost everything in the hands of another vicious woman.

“But now, I will get that all back and more!” she wipes her tears away and laughs, feeling herself feel elated with the thought that she would look into Linda’s eyes in just a few hours. And she will make her feel what she had felt before. Like it was the end of the world, but for Linda, it really is going to be the end of her world for she would never see the light of tomorrow. Today was going to be her last day on earth.

Gia looks forward to that evening but first, she has to make a short trip to the Boulevard Saint Germain to do some last minute shopping and visit a friend’s café. Her flight is not until nine in the evening so she has time to cruise by the busy boulevard and have a leisurely supper. She is going to have her last minute date with a guy whom she fancies at the moment but she doesn’t really think that there would be anything more than what they had at the moment, which was simply having a warm body next to her each night. She’s even surprised at herself that she’s going on a date with the guy when normally, she just sleeps with them and then ditch them the next week. She has been living like that, carelessly playing with other people’s feelings because she lacks feeling herself.

Ever since Nick, she had never fallen in love again. She’s had some flings and constant partners but never that feeling of longing and passion that she experienced with Nick. But as intense as it was, it actually fuels the hatred she feels in her heart even after years of not seeing him.

Oh, yes, she went to James’ funeral that fateful day that Nick met his accident… and it was no coincidence…

 

She arrived at the venue early. She was among the early ones who thought that they could do away with having to deal with a huge crowd if they went there before the actual time. And they were not disappointed for there were only a handful of people there at fifteen minutes to the time of the ceremony. She knew that Nick already knows she arrived in New York courtesy of his evil wife, Linda. And for sure, he would be following her to Buffalo, besides, James was among the most celebrated businessmen in Europe and Nick was familiar with the European market as well as the US one.

Gia did not know then that James was the father of one of Nick’s old conquests, Julie Lewis Wilson and she did not catch a glimpse of Cornelia because she was too busy ducking her head and looking for Nick’s face to notice anyone else. She had her manservant with her as well and the moment that she was alerted that Nick had arrived, she stayed out of the building and slipped past the parking space where she met with Mike.

“Did you see what car he was driving?” she asked Mike looking sideways to look towards the building underneath her wide-brimmed hat.

“It’s the black sedan right over there,” he replied nodding towards the black Mercedes Benz parked a little crookedly at the side of the East parking lot. “What do you want me to do with it? Do you want me to search it or something?”

She smirked and shook her head, “No. I want you to take out the brakes.”

Mike took a second look at her but her expression did not change. She meant it and he would have to obey whatever she says. “Oh, okay. Whatever you say,” he answered and proceeded to take out his handy tools and walked closed to the black car.

The parking was deserted because everyone was back inside, paying their respects to the old businessman. She herself had met James many times before because he was a good friend to her father. She remembered him as the silent man with a ready smile for her whenever he visited their home in Tuscany. When her father died, he was there everyday to console her mother and her but she wouldn’t let him or anyone get near her. She stayed locked up in her room for the next couple of months of her father’s death, not knowing if she would ever get the courage to open the door and learn to exist on the outside ever again…

But she did. She was able to crawl out of the dark place she was cooped up in for several months and got out to exist with the world again. She decided to focus on her father’s business and do her best to continue his legacy and of course, to sustain the life that they have. She was successful for a few years after she graduated from College and she was at the peak of her career when she met Nick McElroy. It was a mistake from the start but Gia being Gia, her stubborn streak won over her better judgement and decided to have an affair with a married man. She was far younger than Nick but she was immediately drawn to him.

They met at a gathering for businessmen teaching each other the tricks of the trade, as they say, and ended up chatting with him the rest of the night and doing more than that for the rest of the night. Nick was hesitant at first, with her being more than twice his age and because he is married to Linda but Gia worked her magic and convinced him otherwise. It went on for a few days until Linda came to Paris, herself, and the three of them even had a luncheon together.

Gia was actually taken by surprise at Linda’s very accommodating nature and even wanted to personally take care of the partnership that Nick and her would be getting into. Something which Nick had led his wife to believe as to what his relationship with Gia was. She went along with it because she wanted to meet her rival and see what she can do to break their marriage up for good. She had fallen really hard for Nick and wanted more than just an occasional tryst abroad. To her, Nick had shown her how a man should take care of his woman. He was gentle, kind, loving, and had her laughing all night long. She longed to be with Nick… To be his wife and bear his children. Nick confessed to her that Linda couldn’t bear children when she asked if Morrison had other siblings. He was honest in telling her that Morrison was adopted – which is not really a secret in the first place but she was still flattered that he had the need to tell her himself. The moment she learned that he doesn’t have children of his own, she had a great idea to be the one to bear his children. She could clearly see in the way he talks about kids that he still wants to have his own kid one day. She made an unbelievable suggestion to Nick which he didn’t have an answer to right away.

“I want to bear your children, Nick. Let me bear children for you… You don’t have to marry me or anything,” she lied, “or give me child support since I can quite fully support myself. All you need to do is be with me on certain days when your child needs you. That’s all,” she said matter-of-factly, as she looked at him with her tousled hair and only a sheet covering her slim body.

They were in his hotel room and they just had sex. They were talking about some stuff about themselves when she brought up the subject about children.

“W-what?” he asked, looking incredulously at her like she had gone completely mad. “Are you serious?”

“Yes! I am! Come on, Nick. Hear me out. You want a kids right?” she asked.

Nick nodded and was about to say something else as a follow through but she put her forefinger on his lips and shushed him, looking all seductive and tempting to Nick.

“Shhh… Okay, so you want kids. Your wife can’t have them… well, she’s had her menopause now, I suppose, so that’s out  of the question,” she rolled her eyes and continued, “And then there’s me who want to have your kids. Like a surrogate mother, except that we would actually have sex and we would need to see each other like every week… I can move to the U.S. if necessary so the kids won’t be too far away from you-,”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” he stopped her and chuckled. “Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself too quickly here? I mean… Yes, I love kids and I wish I’ve had my own offspring, myself,” he said, not confessing that he does have a biological daughter but was lost and couldn’t find her anywhere which was probably for the best. “But I’m not sure that I’d like a baby, an actual small human being to care for and rear at my age. I mean, I’m pushing sixty and you’re what, twenty?”

She just rolled her eyes and kissed him fully on the mouth. “I’m much older than that, thank you. And besides, you’re not going to be the one who would actually change its diapers or feed it. You’re going to be the dad and I’m the mom. Simple as that!” she said enthusiastically, like a child explaining to an adult how they should be climbing trees.

Nick shook his head and drew her away from him to look into her eyes. “Gia… You are a sweet young woman… But I think you’re completely forgetting that I am married and even if she can’t have children of her own, I don’t think she would appreciate a surrogate mother right now. For us, having children has passed. We have Morrison and he is all that we need. Besides, I don’t think spending a few days each week with a “supposed surrogate mother” is very suspicious and Linda is far from being naïve, believe me…”

Gia had to let the subject go since Nick wasn’t sold with the idea at all. She thought it was a full-proof plan of being able to continue with their affair while his wife unknowingly approves of it. But Nick thought otherwise. She wasn’t sure if Nick was enamored of her like she was of him so she needed more convincing to do for the handsome married man to forget about his ageing wife.

What Gia didn’t know then was that Nick was never going to leave Linda for anybody. He had grown too familiar with her and she had always forgiven him for his transgressions. They have come to, sort of, an agreeable existence with each other while staying married to each other. Nick had gotten accustomed to that kind of life and deep inside, whether he admits it or not, he had grown to love Linda over the years. She has been so patient and understanding, always looking out for their best interest as a family and the most amiable wife anybody could ever ask. That was Linda to Nick.

But, as Gia had found out after she had given Linda access to her accounts through her lawyer, Linda was far from the friendly cub that she portrayed herself to be when in front of people. Inside, Linda was like an angry tigress that would spring and kill anybody who would hurt her family. That was Linda… the real one.

So, Gia had her day of comeuppance, broken and isolated from the world like a person with boils whom nobody wanted to touch. She vowed to return the favor to Linda McElroy. And her day had finally come.

Gia finishes her drink and gets ready for her early dinner date that night. Something tells her that it’s going to be a quick one and she’s actually thinking of skipping the date altogether and fly to New York right away… But she’s hungry and she wants to have her favorite coffee at the place they were going so she might as well have a little fun before she has some real fun, ending Linda’s life.

By the time that five o’clock comes around, she has her purse in her hand and ready to get out the door. She pulls on her dress and adjusts it. She’s wearing a simple black dress with a high slit on the side. Her matching purse is slung on her dainty shoulders as she gets inside the limousine, which was courtesy of the hotel she is staying at the moment. The only other property she owned is her ancestral home in Tuscany. After the lawsuit she got involved in, all her assets had been confiscated and sold off to different companies, leaving her with only the properties that were passed down to her and hers by birth, like the house in Tuscany. Albeit it was the only real estate that she has at the moment, it’s the one that has been giving her ample money to live comfortably. The vineyard at the back of the house grows one of the best grapes in the land and she was lucky that a neighboring wine company went into business with her even after the lawsuit. It was the only shot she had to get enough funds to move forward and to plot her revenge. She still has her trust fund but it had dwindled throughout the years.

“Boulevard Saint Germain s’il vous plait,” she says to the driver and they drive off after a few seconds.

She looks at her watch and knows that she would get there in time. She doesn’t like being late, even for a date, or a semi-date, for she needs to run afterwards to the airport. When she arrives at the restaurant, she is ushered in by the waitress to her table at the corner of the room. It’s a pricey restaurant and she was glad that her date even had the chance to get a reservation. The restaurant is usually fully booked for the next two months at least.

“Ah, ma Cherie! You look breathtaking!” Jones, her date, exclaims as she nears their table. He is a young model who just got his break in the fashion industry. Paris is the perfect avenue for him to grow as a model… and the fact that he had to, basically, screw anybody he needed to so he could get bookings and be a Calvin Klein model.

They met at last year’s Paris Fashion Week where Gia was invited by an old friend to attend and enjoy the night away. She did enjoy the night with Jones after they met at the after party of one of the successful designers. He was young and passionate and he loved life.

She first saw him chatting away with some of his other young model colleagues at the pool. They were very loud and that got her attention as she slowly sipped her gin and tonic at the balcony of the house. She felt ridiculous for even going to the after party. There were mostly kids in their twenties or even teenage years, in the party, which was understandable since the line of the designer was on teenage clothing.

Of course, he would have teenagers modeling his work! And yet you still thought it was a good idea to tag along and maybe you’d find somebody who might want to listen to your rumblings! She berated herself as she lets her glass down with care on the railing of the balcony. She was about to leave and just spend the boring night at her hotel room when a good-looking young man approached her with a sly smile.

“Hey, beautiful… Are you here by yourself?” he asked. He held his drink with his right hand and ran his other hand through his beautifully messy blond hair.

“Look, I’m on my way out and you certainly look intoxicated enough not to even remember my name if I even give it to you. So let’s not go through this game and just let me pass,” was her curt reply and tried side stepping him.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you would want to have some company. I, honestly, don’t like parties like these. I only want to get along with these obnoxious models that’s why I act loud and all talkative… but I’m actually not comfortable with a crowd. Then I saw you all by yourself and I felt drawn to you. I… I don’t mean to waste your time and all… I’ll go my way then,” he said then turned his back slowly with the intention of going back where he came from.

He noticed that she had a French accent but was not very distinct, but he had always been keen to languages and was trying to learn the French language since he was to work in Paris from then on. He hails from a small town in Iowa and he had clawed his way into the fashion industry from the very first time he saw how much models travelled around the world. That was his first motivation, to be able to travel and live in luxurious hotels and basically, have total control of his life. Back in Iowa, he was expected to run the family business involving managing the three restaurants that his father owned. But he had a different path he wanted to follow and he did. He secretly auditioned for shows and even tried acting on the side when he was in College. He went to the city to study but he only spent a year in the State University then flew to Los Angeles and went to fashion go-sees. Luckily, after about his tenth one, he snagged a small stint modeling for a retail brand, which lasted for a few months and then his big break happened when he was recruited by a designer who was participating at the Fashion Week to be held in Paris that year. It was a dream come true for him and all he wanted to do when he got there was to stay where he was. However, the production was cancelled and the show never happened for his designer. He was devastated. But he wouldn’t let himself be stuck there, without money, without lodging, and without a job. So he did what he had to do. He sold himself to other models who toyed with him because of his good looks and young body. And after a few months of this, he hit the jackpot and became one of the boyfriends of a celebrated designer, who, of course, made him a part of his modeling staff and lined him up to strut on the runway for his fall line.

Finally, he was able to attend the Paris Fashion Week and there, during the after party, he met the alluring Gia de Grassi. He’s hear do her before but not in detail. All he knew about her was that she’s no longer in her prime but still a lovely woman, who had the misfortune of falling from grace. It is rumored, though, that she still owned a fortune and is alone. So, he thought he’d introduce himself and perhaps, get more acquainted with the heiress. After all, he’s grown pretty tired of the crowd he’s been with for months now and he wouldn’t mind having a change of scenery. He wants to have a luxurious life and this is what there French heiresses are all about according to his limited exposure to them. But still, he wanted to give Gia a try. Perhaps they would find refuge in each other’s arms.

“Umm, hey, wait a minute,” Gia said after Jones turned his back on her.

Jones hid a smile and faced her with a kind of a let-down look on his face. “Yes?”

“Okay. I could spare a minute with you but only one minute! After that, I’m on my way. Besides, I’m still waiting for my limo.”

He beamed and offered her his arm. “Of course, mademoiselle! Now, let’s get a little fresh air, shall we?”

And that’s how they started. They’ve been seeing each other on and off for about four months and although it’s not serious for the both of them, they still stuck with each other because they know that they are so alike in many ways, one being, they are not comfortable with changes. They are not really just lovers or just friends, sometimes they can’t stand each other, and other times, they act like lovesick puppies. Complicated is the most appropriate word for what they have and they are comfortable being like that.

“And you are looking particularly dashing, Jones. I don’t believe I’ve seen you in that tux before?” she accepts his kiss on both of her cheeks and sits on the velvet chair that he held out for her.

“Well, I’ve been a very good boy that my boss gave me a little bonus last week. And that’s why I wanted to have dinner as well. I am actually on my way to Los Angeles tonight for a show and… I was wondering if, ah,” he scratches his head and seems to be shy about what he is about to say.

“What? What are you going to say?” she asks, while checking the menu. She’s not paying full attention to him since her mind is on her flight that night as well. “Oh, and yeah, I am also on my way to New York tonight for some business meeting.”

“Oh,” he says, looking disappointed.

“So,” she looks up from the menu and asks again, “I’m glad you’re having some shows again. What were you going to say?”

“Um, nothing…,” he ducks his head so she won’t see him lying and looks at his menu as well, “I’m glad you’re going stateside as well. How long would you be there?”

“Just a couple of days, I guess. I just need to take care of some pressing business problems.” She looks over at Jones and feels that there’s something else he wanted to say but she doesn’t push it. She can just ask later.

“Oh, okay. Maybe I’ll meet you there perhaps. Are you going to be busy the whole time?” he asks again. He wants to be honest with her and tell her how he really feels about her now that they’ve been together, on and off, for several months, but he’s afraid that he might scare her away. He remembers what she said to him the first night they were together.

“Promise me you won’t fall in love with me, Jones,” she whispered to him as they laid on the bed, spent from their lovemaking.

They spent the whole night together, with the after party of the Paris Fashion Week show, and even enjoying a cup of coffee afterwards in the streets of Saint Germain. He honestly thought that she would just be another random woman whom he could use to get the things that he wanted like living comfortably, and he did that during the first few months because he felt that she, too, was using him for her own reasons as well. They were obviously just using each other and he was comfortable with that.

But just last month, as they laid on her hotel room bed, he glanced at her sleeping guise and saw her… the real her. Her eyebrows were drawn together and her breathing was getting faster as if she was struggling with something in the dream she was having. She suddenly jerks and gasps, waking up after a nightmare and she reached for him instinctively. And as surprised as he was, he let her draw him to her. He hugged her shivering body to him and whispered soothing words to her like what one does to a crying child. She was being the scared child she was, and it was the first time that Jones saw honesty in her. She never showed any vulnerability in the way she spoke to him or acted towards him or everybody else. And he’s spent a few nights in her bed but never after she had already fallen asleep. He learned from the first time they got together that she doesn’t want anyone beside her when she wakes up in the morning and she was very vocal about that. She had asked him before to promise to leave after she had fallen asleep, and he had always done so.

Except that night. He didn’t want to leave just yet so he stayed another hour after she had fallen asleep and that’s when he witnessed the most vulnerable part of Gia. The most honest she could ever be… And he liked holding her in his arms that way, in a non-sexual way. He liked the feeling that she was dependent on him, even for just those few minutes.

After several minutes, she had fallen back to sleep and never awoke until he decided to finally leave her at around three in the morning. He wanted to make sure that she didn’t have any more nightmares before he left. And he wanted to gaze more into her unguarded state because he doesn’t see that side of her very often, or almost never at all.

Then as he was walking back to his apartment at four in the morning, it struck him that he never slept with anybody else in those whole time that they were together, except for her. She knew that he was very good-looking and had many girls on the side, so she never pushed him into getting into any kind of label between them. She made it clear that she wasn’t looking for a relationship of the romantic kind. In her exact words, “It’s not like I’m going to marry you someday and have kids with you because that would be crazy”.

He realized that he felt something more than friendship with Gia. He wants more nights with her, holding her tight to ward off her nightmares. He wants to be the one she reaches to whenever she’s scared. He wants more than what they have…

So, since that night, he had secretly been looking for the perfect moment to tell her what he really felt about her. He goes crazy at times that she doesn’t respond to his messages or wouldn’t meet with him because of a prior engagement. He has never been the jealous kind but when it comes to Gia, he would go crazy with jealousy knowing that she might be with someone else and doing all the things that they do inside the bedroom. During those times, he would go out and get drunk out of his senses. He would normally not remember how he got home the next day or who he was with but he was still glad that for a night, he forgot about her.

Then news came that he would be going to Los Angeles for the next two months. He would be the lead model for an ad for a known brand of clothing. It was a huge opportunity for him and he couldn’t say no to it. He decided to call up Gia and have dinner with her before he flies out. He just found out that morning so he was ecstatic when Gia agreed to have dinner with him.

“I might be busy during the first few days but not so much afterwards. I’m really not sure, Jones. And I’m not sure that it’s wise to meet up when were there. I don’t actually know what my exact schedule might be so I think its best to postpone meeting up… at least until we get back here,” she says offhandedly.

Jones tries to crush the urge to ask again or to push with meeting up with her so he decides to order to get his mind off what she just said. They order their favorite meals and talks some more about what’s been happening to each other.

“It’s been, what, three weeks or a month since we last saw each other, right? So how’s everything?” he asks, mustering his best forgetful look but in his mind, he had counted the hours.

“Yes, I think about three weeks or so. Nothing much had happened, except for the fire in the vineyard. It’s good that only a small portion of the plants got burned. Just imagine if it had spread! It would have decimated the whole vineyard and I would be out of work. Hah! I don’t know if I can live anywhere else or do anything else aside from managing something,” she laughs.

“You could find a husband and have a family?” he says all of a sudden.

She looks at him with an amused expression and answers, “Well, if he deserves it or lucky enough to find me, maybe I will have a family someday. Can you imagine me with kids and a white picket fence?” she asks with the same amused tone.

“Well, maybe. You don’t know what will happen in the future you know. I, personally, want to have a wife and maybe a couple of kids running around in the backyard,” he adds.

“Hmm, I’ve never pegged you as someone who would want to settle down. At what age are we talking about? Maybe when you’re sixty?” She’s making fun of him because she doesn’t believe that he would ever want a family of his own.

“You haven’t known the rest of me yet, that’s why,” he jokes.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m happy you still long to have your own family in the future. Me, on the other hand, am not entirely sure I still want one. And I’m not exactly in that stage that you call “child-bearing age”. So, its probably best that I pass on it and enjoy my single blessedness. Its fun! Its better than having complicated relationships and then end up divorcing after a couple of years. No, thank you!”

They grow silent for a few seconds then Jones turns serious and says, ”Gia… I have something else to tell you…”

She looks at him with an expression that shows that she’s waiting for whatever it was he was about to tell her when there’s a sudden explosion somewhere to her right. They are inside the restaurant, on the corner, beside a big window that looks out to the streets of Saint Germain so the blast reached them and shattered the glass that’s beside them. Jones is quick to pull her down with him after the blast shattered the glass of the windows. Shards of glass were in her hair and some on her bare arms but she couldn’t feel any of it yet. She is still in shock of the explosion that she doesn’t feel the trickle of blood   on the side of her. A small piece of glass had lodged itself on her right cheekbone and it’s making the wound gush with blood.

“A-are you okay? Gia? Gia? Hey! Look at me!” Jones is shouting at her from above the screams and other noises in the restaurant. She can hear him but there’s a ringing in her ears that made his voice sound muffled and seemed so far away even if he just screamed right next to her ears.

“W-what?” she asks but can’t hear her own voice.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” he asks again then sees the glass that’s still on her cheekbone when he turned her face towards him. “Hold still,” he commands then takes a napkin from an upturned table, and takes out the small piece from her face. The end of it sticks out so he could see it clearly and yanks it out slowly. He uses the napkin to dab on the wound, “Hold this and keep pressure there. The bleeding should stop after several minutes but you have to press on it, okay?”

She nods and keeps the napkin pressed to her face firmly. She can’t feel the pain yet but she is slowly gaining her hearing. There’s still a ringing in her ears but its considerably not that loud anymore.

“What happened?” They look around and see people lying on the ground, their tables all haphazardly strewn on the floor as plates, utensils, bottles, and other utensils are all on the floor as well.

“I don’t know but we have to get out of here. It’s no safe here. The restaurant’s roof might collapse, see?” he points to the ceiling and sees it slowly collapsing. He grabs her hand and leads her out of the crowded restaurant. Lots of people are on the ground, others were no longer moving while the rest are lying flat on their stomachs, too afraid to make a move for fear that another blast might happen.

“I think that a bomb went off or maybe a big building with explosives or fireworks because if it were just an ordinary building that caught fire or had a blown switch that caused an explosion, it wouldn’t be that big… not like this… No, this is something else. Come! We must find safety!”

She only nods and follows Jones as he goes forward towards the parked cars on the street, many of which are on fire but there are a couple in the alley that looks like it was spared from the blast. Towing her with him, he goes from car to car to see if its open. He tries the door handle of the first one but it’s locked so they go to the other one beside it. Miraculously, it is open so he yanks open the driver’s door and looks for the keys.

“I’m sure the authorities have already seen the explosion and they are probably on their way here. We just need to hold out until they get here but we’d suffocate here if we don’t get to somewhere safe,” he tells her as they pile inside the car.

He tries to start it but it sputters several times then finally, it starts. It’s screechy sound fills the alley as he slowly steps on the gas. He takes care not to make any loud sounds for it might cause a commotion and would further collapse the buildings round them. It was a strong blast and it took out the whole street where they were having their dinner.

“What do you think happened? We must find shelter from these buildings because they look like they’d collapse anytime,” he says as they pullout of the alley slowly.

“I- I don’t know what’s happening… Wh-where are we going anyway? Can you see anything in this thick smoke? You might hit somebody, Jones!” she replies with obvious panic in her voice.

“We have to get out of here, Gia. We can’t stick around here and wait to be crushed by these bricks. Look, we’re going to go slowly okay?”

She nods slowly and looks around cautiously as the inches forward out of the alley. The street is pretty much full of debris and bodies but they can get around if they go slowly.

“Hold, on, Gia. I promise, I’ll get you out of here. Just have faith, okay? We’re going to be okay, you’ll see,” he tells her this as he presses more on the gas and steers the wheel carefully.

“Jones?”she asks after a full minute of silence.

“What is it Gia?”

“It’s deadly quiet out here. Do you think there are still survivors out there? Where are we going?” she scoots closer to him and holds his arm.

Her gesture puts a smile on his face. It makes him feel good for her to reach for him when she’s scared. He wants to be there for her in every way and easing her fears was one task he would gladly do.

“I’m sure there are lots of survivors, Gia. Maybe they’ve gone ahead and looked for shelter elsewhere as well. Don’t worry, we’ll find people out there. Hold fast and don’t be scared, I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you,” he says with resolve and looks at her with a comforting smile on his face.

She is taken by surprise at how sincere he seems to be when he uttered those words. She looks at him with wonder and feels differently about him all of a sudden. She’s been trying to hold herself back from feeling anything about anybody, especially for him, because she didn’t want anything to destroy their convenient set up. But for the past month, she had been missing him even more each time they part and she’s been trying to shake off that feeling by declining his invites to lunches and dates. She wanted to stay away from feeling anything romantic about what they have. They’ve agreed in the beginning that it would be nothing but a partnership for the both of them. Yes, they are friends, and yes, they allow themselves the benefit of being more than that physically, but never emotionally. She remembered making him promise not to fall in love with her, but in truth, she was making herself promise that she must not fall in love with him.

And now, they’re in a pickle because she sees in his eyes that what he said about him being there for her is the truth and she can feel her heart swell with love as he looks into her eyes and assures her with his gaze. She wants to throw her arms around him and give herself fully to him as someone who can be romantically involved with him.

“Jones, I…,” she starts but then they hear a shout from behind them.

“Watch out!” says a male voice behind the car, coming from the direction of the restaurant.

They look behind them and sees a handful of people still inside the restaurant, cooped up with each other. One man, a waiter according to how he was dressed, waves at them and points up their heads.

“What the -,” Jones says then looks up at what the waiter is pointing at. “Oh, my God…”

“What? What is it?” she says, looking up as well.

“Look out!” he shouts at her then drags her down to the floorboards and covers her with his body. She gets knocked down to the floor of the car and loses her bearings for a few seconds.

The next instant, she feels Jones’ body weigh her down some more to the floor. She pushes up with her hands to steady herself but his heavy build is too much for her to bear. With one breath, she heaves herself up and pushes him off of her. A huge boulder had dropped from the building beside them and landed on the hood of the sedan. Jones used his body to screen it from hitting her but he was hit instead and lost consciousness.

She eases him from her and sees that they are trapped inside the car but she can still move around if she bends her body accordingly. Jones’ lower body is half lying on the driver’s seat and his head and chest is slowly sliding to the floor of the seat.

“Oh my, God! Jones!” she grabs a hold of the lapels of his tux and pulls him up to her. He’s heavy but she uses her leg to assist her in heaving him to back to the seat. She locates the seat adjustment knob and pushes the seat all the way down to the backseat where Jones could now lie down.

“Jones! Jones! Wake up, Jones!” she inspects his face and sees blood on his lip and on his temple. He must have been hit in different places and his face must have hit the steering wheel or the dashboard. Then she remembers that there were people in the restaurant before the boulder hit the car.

Maybe they’re still out there.

“Aidez-moi! Aidez-moi! Il y a quelqu’un là-bas?” she screams and bangs on the sides of the car. The whole front half of the car is buried in the debris of the boulder and the back part is up against the wall. The impact of the boulder propelled the car backwards and back up the wall behind it. The trunk is crushed making it impossible for any escape from the back. The only other option is for the boulder to be removed or else they would be trapped there and might possibly suffocate from the smoke that’s coming from the burning building beside them.

She calls out again and uses her hands and feet to make noises to attract anybody’s attention. Then after several minutes, she hears voices.

“Attendez! Reste où tu es!” someone says from the outside. At first their words seem muffled and far away but it was because of the huge block of cement boulder that was on top of the sedan. Then there are more voices and more shouting from the outside. She hears instructions being given out in French on how to remove the cement block from the top of the car.

She looks at Jones who is still out cold and caresses his face. “Don’t worry, Jones. Help is here. Hold on. Don’t…,” her voice catches in her throat and fights the urge to cry. She gulps hard and swallows the emotions that threatens to spill over, “Don’t let go. I’m here. I’m not leaving you, Jones, please…” she rests her face close to his and feels his faint breathing. She tries to stem the blood gushing from his forehead but the cut where it’s coming from seems deep and big that’s why there was so much blood coming out of it.

As the hears the people still working outside to get them free, she tears out parts of her dress to use as makeshift bandages and towels to dab on the blood coming from his cuts. Her face is also caked with blood but she doesn’t care. All she could think about is Jones and how she could get him out of there. And how similar the scene is to what she saw when she and her father had the accident that claimed his life.

“No! You will not die on me too, Jones! I can’t let you! You can’t die because…,” she stops and thinks, Why? Because what?

“Because I love you, that’s what! Yes, I love you, Jones Kendrick! I’ve loved you for a while now and the only reason why I couldn’t allow myself to do so was my fear of being left behind again…” she says, the last words were whispers that only she could hear.

She starts to cry. She’s letting herself weep for her father, for feeling helpless again for not being able to do anything more for Jones, like what happened when her father died. She suddenly feels a hand come up to her face and wipe her tears away.

“Jones!” she gasps and holds on to his hand. His eyes are now half open, despite the caked blood down the side of his face from the wound in his forehead. “Oh my, God! Jones, you’re okay!” she hugs him tight and lets go because of his slight protest.

“Ouch!” he hisses but then smiles up at her after she pulled away.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Did it hurt? I’m sorry… I’m just so happy to see you awake! I was so afraid that you’d never wake up… I was so scared for you, Jones…” she hugs him again but more gently this time.

“Gia… I told you, I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’m just here, I won’t leave you, okay?” he looks longingly at her and sits up a bit on his seat.

The people outside are still banging and hacking at the cement block while shouting words of encouragement to Gia and Jones. Gia responds to them whenever they call out so they would know that they are still alive and are waiting to be rescued.

“Gia?” Jones asks as she dabs on the blood on his another cut on his right arm.

“Hmm?” she answers while she looks for other cuts on his arms.

“Did you mean what you said?” he asks in a low voice.

Gia stops what she’s doing for a few seconds as the question sinks in. Oh shit! He heard me! What should I say? Should I admit it? Or should I continue not telling him what I really feel and flat out lie to him?

She clears her throat and keeps on inspecting his arms for other wounds. “What are you talking about? You were out cold earlier… I was talking to myself… Or maybe I was calling out for help. I don’t know exactly… what you’re talking about…”

He places his fingers under her chin and lifts her face slowly to meet his. “Gia? Please… Can we stop lying to each other? I think its about time and if this,” he looks around at the small, cramped space of the car, “is the only way for us to be truly honest to each other, then I am glad that this happened to us… Well, except my injuries, of course. They freakin’ hurt like hell!” he chuckles.

She laughs at his remark too and shakes her head at him for still being so humorous after all the pain he’s been through.

He turns serious after a few seconds and holds her hands in his, “Seriously, Gia. I was going to tell you tonight… I was going to ask you to come with me to Los Angeles… I had planned to go home to my hometown and have you meet my parents. They’ve been waiting for me to bring home a lady whom they might see me have a family with… someday…”

Gia remains speechless but her heart is swelling up inside from all the love she’s starting  to let herself feel for the man who risked his life to save hers.

“And, I, ah, I truly would like to believe, if you would have me, of course… To, ah,” he starts stammering and can’t seem to get the right words out of his mouth. He is too nervous to deliver his message in the way he pictured it to be. “Ugh! I can’t even get the words right!” he starts getting angry at himself for messing up but Gia places her forefinger on his lips gently and says,

“Shhh… Jones, you don’t have to say anything… I, ah, I would love to go with you to your hometown and I’d be honored to meet your parents.”

They look at each other and they know in their hearts that finally, after four months of sleeping with each other and not allowing any emotions to get between them, they are being honest and are starting to let their hearts rule over their heads. Their faces draw closer to each other as Gia closes her eyes in anticipation for their kiss.

“Mademoiselle?” a voice calls out from outside and when she opens her eyes, she sees that the people who were calling for her from the outside of the car were able to dig out a hole in the cement block which was big enough for Jones and her to crawl out from.

An ambulance was waiting for them on the street. The emergency personnel who responded carried Jones out with a stretcher and gave Gia a mask to breathe into for oxygen. They had been inside the suffocating car for about fifteen minutes or so and inhaled lots of smoke from the burning buildings all around them.

Gia is escorted to another ambulance but wanted to go with Jones. “No, I’m with him. I want to go with him,” she protests as the EMT was about to close the ambulance door.

“D’accord Madame,” says the EMT and lets her into the ambulance where Jones is.

The moment she sees him, his eyes lit up and he stretches out his hand to hers. She takes it and puts it up to her cheeks, relishing the warmth of his big hands.

“Oh, Gia… I am so happy that we made it out and that we’re still together…,” he whispers in her ears as the ambulance drives away towards the hospital.

“Oui… And we will be together far longer than those minutes we were inside the car. I-if you would have me…” she answers back.

“Oh, Gia,” he pulls up his body with one hand and kissed her full on the mouth. The EMT inside with them graciously busies himself with arranging the bandages behind him and radioing the other ambulances to coordinate.

After a long and passionate kiss, he draws her away only to tell her what he originally wanted to tell her during their date. “I love you, Gia de Grassi. I’ve loved you since a couple of months ago when I woke up from being a stupid idiot and saw you for who you really are. You are kind and good and even if you hide yourself away from everybody else, I see you… and I love you!”

Gia feels tears spring to her eyes and realizes that she wants to believe everything Jones said about her. Maybe it is high time to move on and forget having her senseless revenge where she would not only hurt other people, but herself as well in the process. Maybe it’s time to set aside her differences with the McElroys and get on with her life. She’s destroyed years of it already. And maybe if she had just listened to her good sense then and never even considered entering into a relationship which was doomed in the first place for one party was already married, then she wouldn’t have tasted the bitter vengeance of a wronged woman, Nick’s wife. Maybe they were all hurt in this whole vengeful act that she had concocted and that people, by nature, just retaliate to threats involving their families… protecting their families with every inch of their abilities and even going against their better judgements…

“Jones Kendrick, I love you too!” she replies and showers him with kisses as he laughs until his injuries hurt. But every ounce of pain he was experiencing was worth it.

 

 

Chapter V

 

“The blast in Paris has sparked worldwide panic as the streets…,” the television reporter continuous giving them horrendous news about the bombing in Paris and Morrison has not been able to reach Theo in past hour.

“Damn it to hell! Where the hell could he be?! Shit!” he slams his mobile phone on his office table and rakes his fingers through his hair.

He was at home when the news broke out but he couldn’t stay in one place so he decided to go to his office and find out what he could do from there to find his mother. He presumes that no one would be calling him at that hour because if anybody would be asking for any demands, they would have called hours ago.

His phone suddenly rings as Morrison juggles with it in anticipation of Theo’s call but it isn’t Theo.

“Sir, we’ve found her,” says the voice whom Morrison recognizes as one of his men.

“Tell me,” he answers in a calm but deadly voice.

In the next half hour, Morrison drives around town following the directions that his man gave him. He also made calls to the police to give them the directions as well but couldn’t wait for them to come pick him up. He just wants to go and get his mother and make sure she was all right.

He arrives at the place where his man meets up with him shortly after he concealed his car in a dark spot.

“What have you seen?” he whispers to Jake, his most trusted investigator, as they crouch low behind the bushes as they scour the vicinity while the police are still on their way.

“There are four men in total, two outside, prowling around, probably the sentinels to keep watch for intruders, and another two inside with your mother, I presume. I didn’t see her yet but according to the call she made, we got in touch with your phone company and triangulated the signal within a fifty-mile radius. After more inferring with my other colleagues, we found several abandoned places such as warehouses and old residential houses. I had them checked and so far, this is the one we highly suspect is the house where they are keeping her. But as I said, I have not seen her personally for we haven’t entered the premises yet. I wanted to call you first and let you see for yourself.

“Wow! You work faster than the cops! I am impressed,” Morrison answers, feeling certain that it is the exact place that his mother is being held prisoner.

“That’s why you pay us, Mr. McElroy. Now, according to my colleagues, they see some activity inside. One of the other men is coming out. Would you want us to take them now so we could see if your mother is indeed inside the building?” he asks, his hand poised to give the signal to his companions through his earpiece.

“Yes, let’s take them now. We’ll find out later if you’re right. The important thing is we eliminate as many places as possible in our search for my mother,” he replies, readying himself for a fight. He was not going to stand around and let them fight the bad guys alone. He wants in on the action too.

“Okay men, take them out,” Jake says calmly into the earpiece.

One by one, the two men who were outside the house dropped. Jake’s men used a tranquilizer to knock them out, using their snipper skills to make the accurate shots from afar.

“Okay, good. Now, Mr. McElroy, you better stay here until I clear the house.” Jake makes a move towards the thug who is on his way outside when Morrison charges forward and takes Kurt by the arm. He twists Kurt’s arm, locking it behind the man’s back and shoving him against the wall.

“Where is Linda McElroy!” Morrison asks Kurt in a deadly whisper. “Tell me, now! Or your arm would never go back the way it was!”

Kurt cries out in pain but Morrison shoves a piece of cloth in his mouth to stifle his cries. Kurt makes moaning sounds and makes nodding gestures, signaling to Morrison that he’s ready to talk.

“So, are you going to tell me now?”

Kurt nods as Morrison takes the cloth off his mouth. “Yes! Sh- she’s inside,” he gasps, catching his breath. “She’s inside with Mike, okay! Please, let me go. I- I had nothing to do with this plan… We were just given instructions…”

Morrison shoves him, some more which presses his face against the cement. The cement scrapes his face as he cringes from the pain.

“Who sent you? Whose plan is this, huh? Tell me!” he lifts Kurt’s face form the cement only to push it back harder to the wall.

“Ow! C’mon man! I already told you, she’s inside! I-I don’t know who the boss is… Only Mike knows, I swear!” he pleads again and this time, Morrison tosses him aside to Jake and tells Jake to subdue the man with rope, which Jake does with little effort.

Jake hits Kurt on the back of the head to knock him out until the cops got there and then proceeds to go inside the house cautiously with Morrison.

Morrison looks at Jake as they converge at the door, “You check the right and I’ll go left. Remember, no harm must ever come to my mother and if you can avoid it don’t kill that Mike fellow. I want to question him some more and I don’t want the cops to get to him first,” he whispers.

“Copy that, sir. I’ll be quick and quiet,” Jake replies and goes in first with Morrison following suit.

The inside of the house is dark with only the moon as the source of light. Jake crosses the threshold between what seems to be a small living room and the kitchen, which were both on the right from the main door. Morrison, on the other hand, goes towards the left side and sees a staircase going up. He looks up cautiously and glances over to Jake, who shook his head, signaling that the living room and kitchen are clear. Morrison nods and points upwards, towards the second floor. He steps on the first flight of stairs and hears the wood creak with his every step. He cringes at each sound but hopes that the other thug doesn’t hear it.

Jake is right behind him and as they reach the top of the stairs, they separate again, each taking one side of the upstairs rooms but as they converge back to where they first parted ways, they didn’t see or hear anything from the rooms.

“Where could they be keeping her?” asks Jake then gets an idea. “Maybe there’s an underground cellar or basement or something. My men have not checked this house yet so we better get down and see if there’s a hidden room below.

“Good idea. Let’s go. And where the fuck are those cops?” Morrison mutters as they start going down the flight of stairs. “We better make this quick Jake. My mother’s not in good health.”

He is terrified to even allow himself into thinking that Linda might be sick or unconscious somewhere in that old house. It makes him mad to think that if he couldn’t protect his own mother from their enemies, what would make him capable of protecting Cornelia?

Jake signals to him from where he is and points to a small door. “I think that one’s a basement or cellar door,” he whispers to Morrison as he came closer. “I’ll go ahead and see what’s down there. You wait here until I give you the signal to come down, okay?”

Morrison nods and lets him go inside after opening the door. It wasn’t locked so he didn’t have to pick it. The door gives a small creaking sound as Jake opens a fraction. He goes inside stealthily and then all of a sudden, there’s a ruckus from the inside and it sounds like its coming from below.

Morrison decides to charge inside himself and opens the door wide. There’s a narrow stairway going down with only a dim and flickering yellow bulb lighting the inside of the basement. It didn’t lend much light to the basement, only enough for Morrison to see where he is stepping on.

“Jake!” he hisses but there’s no answer from Jake. He’s being careful not to be so loud just in case they have not been discovered yet. “Jake, where are you?” he calls out again but still no answer. He lands his foot gently on the fourth step from the top when suddenly, a hand grabs his left ankle and yanks it from underneath the stairs. “Ow!” he yelps as he stumbles forward. He uses his hands to shield his face and head from hitting the ground as he rolls to the foot of the stairs.

He hits the wall and comes to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. He comes to his senses quickly and shakes his head to ward off his dizziness. He looks around quickly and can’t see much due to the dim light. He gropes around for something to hang on to as he stands up slowly.

“Mom? Jake? Are you in here?” he whispers, still not sure if the enemy had spotted them already but since someone grabbed his ankles, he guesses that the Mike fellow probably knows and is waiting to pounce on him. Shit! How could I be so careless? I should have waited for the cops… Who knows what he has stored in this basement?

Then he hears a sudden movement on his right and a distinct grunt. “What the-,” he exclaims as a man charging with an axe comes and attacks him. He is quick to duck and roll over on the ground to avoid the weapon the guy is wielding.

“What the fuck!” Morrison rolls some more and hits another part of the wall with a thud. He regains his footing and springs to his feet with agile movements. He is further into the basement and its pitch black where they are. A sliver of light shines on the glass window and shows a figure below it. The figure is slouched forward but appears to be breathing but restrained on the chair that its sitting on.

“Jake?” he whispers as he edges towards it. He squints his eyes to see more from the dark room but he could barely see the figure beneath the window. He reaches the window and can see that it is Jake, slumped over, sitting on the wooden chair with his hands tied behind his back.

“Jake! Wake up man!” he grabs Jakes shoudlers and gives it a shake then tries loosening the ropes on his hands.

“Wh-what happened?” Jake says groggily as he comes to.

Then Mike lunges from the shadows again with his axe and hits the wall where Morrison was standing on just a few seconds ago. He ducks behind Jake and kicks something on the ground. He picks it up and stands quickly in time to stop Mike form swinging his axe again at him. The object on the ground near the corner of the room was a gun so Morrison holds it up in front of him and takes aim on Mike’s shoulder.

The shot rings across the room and the sound is deafening. In the next instant, Mike is on the floor, moaning from his shoulder wound. Morrison was successful with his aim. He quickly approaches the man on the floor and kicks the axe away from his hands.

“Stay where you are! Stay or I will shoot you between the eyes!” Morrison shouts at Mike as he looks over to his shoulder and sees Jake trying to loosen his ropes. He already has one hand out of the restraints Mike put on him and is about to finish the other one.

He stands beside Morrison, rubbing his forehead where a gnash had begun bleeding. “What the hell. He caught me by surprise when I reached the landing. I saw his shadow move from behind so I was able to kick the gun out of his hands but then he was holding an axe on the other one, which he swung right above my head. I lost my balance and went down to the ground where he knocked me out, I guess.”

“Yeah, I was lucky my head wasn’t chopped off as well when I came inside. Where are the fucking lights in this place anyway?”

Jake takes out a lighter and looks for the switch, which is at the far side of the brick wall. He turns on the switch and bright lights comes on. It blinds them for a few seconds but as their eyes adjust to the light, they see boxes and crates lying around the basement. It’s a storeroom of sorts, probably from the ones who used to live there.

“Hey! Where is Linda McElroy?” Morrison kicks Mike’s foot as the man groans from the pain. “Tell me! Where did you take her?”

Mike doesn’t answer right away but laughs at him instead.

“What the fuck are you laughing about? You want me to end you right here, right now? Because I will not hesitate to blow your brains out and I couldn’t care shit if the cops are already outside!” was Morrison’s heated answer to Mike’s laugh.

The sirens were blaring outside and he could hear the cops scramble towards the house, shouting orders to each other to secure the perimeter and to look for them.

“You wouldn’t kill me… at least not right away,” says Mike with a snort. He sounds so confident and crazy that infuriates Morrison even more. He takes a step closer to Mike and points the gun closer to Mike’s forehead with angry eyes.

“Yeah! And why is that? Who’s going to stop me, huh? Jake is sure as hell wouldn’t lift an inch to help you, asshole! Now tell me where she is now!”

“You won’t kill me because I am the only one who knows where your precious mother is right now, Mr. McElroy, Jr…” Mike says then laughs again. He has totally lost his mind now. He didn’t expect anyone to know where they are because no one from his companions would even dare rat him or Gia out.

 

When they dragged the old lady’s still sedated body out of the car, they knew that it was only a matter of time until Gia arrives and gets her say with the old lady. After that, they would need to dispose the body, probably near a river or an abandoned lot or something. He figured they’d just think about the technicalities once they’ve killed the old lady.

But as it turned out, after about an hour, they saw that news that there was a bombing in Paris. He tried calling Gia afterwards but he couldn’t get an answer.

“What do we do now, Mike? What if she doesn’t come?” Kurt asked as Mike paced across the living room of the abandoned house.

“I don’t know, you idiot! Let me think clearly for a few minutes, will you?!” he snapped at Kurt, which got him to shut up for his own  good. Mike continued pacing until an idea struck him. “Well, if she doesn’t arrive at the designated time, then we’d have to move to Plan B.”

Kurt looked at him with a puzzled look, “There’s a Plan B? What is Plan A in the first place?”

Mike just shook his head at him and replied. “That’s for me to know and you to follow. So, start digging.”

“Huh? Dig where? What are you talking about? Can you let me at least know what you intend to do with the old lady? Are we going to kill her or what?” was Kurt’s answer, still with doubt written all over his face as to if he should follow what Mike’s telling him.

“Listen, you idiot! I’m in charge now! Gia is probably off there in Paris somewhere. We don’t even know if she’s still alive. So instead of gawking around here, not knowing what to do with this rich bitch, why don’t you just listen to me and do as I say!” repeated Mike brandishing his gun as he said it.

Kurt put his hands up and didn’t protest anymore, “Okay, okay, boss. Whatever you say,” then proceeds to digging up the ground in the basement where they’ve placed the old lady.

“That’s some pretty strong stuff you’ve mixed into the air conditioning, man. She’s still out cold. How did you manage to avoid getting drugged?” Kurt stabbed the ground with the shovel and proceeded to digging a hole. “Hey, how big is this hole going to be?”

“For a guy, you talk too much, Kurt. But I will indulge you for lack of anything better to do. I don’t think I have used that much in the drug and I used a mask to avoid inhaling the dreaded substance. If you ask me, Mrs. McElroy right here is just pretending to stay still so she could work out a plan to escape, which, in this case, is fruitless for we are in the basement and the only way out of here is that small door up the stairs… So, if I were you, Linda, I’d be better off talking to my captors instead of plotting on how to escape when there is no possible way for you to even step out of this house.”

Linda straightened up from her slumped figure on the chair, mainly because her back was killing her, and also, she realized that it was fruitless to even attempt to outrun them. The man, named Mike, was right. That place might very well be the last place on Earth she would ever be.

“Fine. So you think that you’re all clever because you found me out. How did you notice anyway?” she asked Mike.

“Well, for one, you keep squinting your eyes at us, yes, I can see in this dim light, and then your hands can’t stand still from groping all over your seat. Yes, I saw that too,” Mike said nonchalantly at her.

“Okay, I’d give you that. You have eyes like a cat then. But can you tell me what you’re planning to do with me? As you have mentioned, Gia might be indisposed indefinitely, so are you going to wait for that bitch to come to her senses and turn herself in or are you going to do that yourselves?”

For an old lady who was just kidnapped, Linda sounded calm and collected, which set off Mike’s ire. He tried being the calm one but he was riled up by how she was behaving. He expected her to beg and scream for help like any other victim but she’s not even attempting to stand up and make a run for the door, which was only a few paces from where she was sitting.

“You think you can talk me out of this? Well, you thought wrong. Even if Gia might be indisposed, or even dead, for all I care, I have an agenda of my own and since you’re already here, unaided and alone, I’d like to make the best out of the situation and ask for ransom from your family myself. Let’s see if they pay up, shall we? If not, then, perhaps this hole that my good friend, Kurt, is digging is the best place for you to stay… permanently!” Mike spat his words to her to show her he means business. “So, if you ever want to see the light of day or your precious family again, you would do well to send them a message and ask for what I will tell you to ask. Your rich husband would surely cough up several of his millions to save you, wouldn’t he?” he added.

“I’d hate to bring it to you, junior, but my husband is incapacitated as of the moment since he is in a coma, so even if I call him or even go to him in his hospital bed, I might not be able to talk any sense into him,” she replied with sass.

Damn this woman! Isn’t she afraid of what might happen to her? Of what’s going to happen to her if she continues to defy me?

Mike slammed his fist to the wall and kicked the spare shovel on his feet. “Are you really that stupid to think that you could beat me with your play with words, huh? I can assure you that after this, you are going to die, one way or another. But first, I want to make money from you. I know you have a son and he is now in-charge of everything so why not give him a call instead?”

“Well, you could try but knowing my son, he wouldn’t be standing around waiting for a call from some random kidnapper. If you knew Morrison, you’d know that he’s probably on his way here right now, with or without the cops, and will be storming in this God awful place to take you down,” she said confidently as if she knew exactly that it’s what’s going to happen just a few minutes afterwards.

“Oh you! You’ve pushed it!” Mike shouted and looked over at Kurt who kept on digging despite the exchange of words that the two had, and who secretly hid his smiles and snorts.

Kurt was actually starting to admire the old lady. At least she’s got guts to face what’s coming for her, he thought.

“Y-yeah, Mike?” he answered uncertainly, not quite hearing what Mike had just said because he was too busy figuring out if the old lady’s last remark was true or was she just bullshitting them to buy herself some time.

“Aren’t you done yet?” barked Mike, who went to the corner of the dark basement and dragged a wooden box towards the hole. It was actually a wooden crate when she looked at it closely. It’s the size of those standard wooden crates used for deliveries for wines or furniture. She could probably fit in if she ducked her head and curled her legs up to her knees while sitting down.

She was beginning to understand what the hole and the crate was for. And despite her brave front, a cold sweat ran down her back as her dreaded hour was fast approaching. But instead of acting beaten down and defeated, she straightened her spine and raised her head higher.

“So, I bet you’ve already figured out what’s going to become of you, have you? With that brilliant mind and cocky attitude, it’s not hard to put two things together, isn’t it? What have you got to say for yourself now then?” Mike asked sarcastically, brandishing the gun at her as he urged Kurt to dig some more.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me in a few hours… but this I know for sure; by the time I’ve ran out of breath in there, you would have been caught and probably shot at – I hope shot dead – but that won’t be  wise because no one would know where you’ve put me. I’m sure that dumbo here,” she cocked her head to one side at Kurt who was still digging, “would spill the beans the moment he gets caught and you’d be trapped down here, like me. What will you do then?” was her calm answer.

Her statement infuriated him some more and he couldn’t help but hit her with the butt of his gun.

Smack! Then Linda’s world turned black.

“Serves you right you cocky old bitch!” snorted Kurt then kept on digging. “Who would have thought that this wrinkled old woman would still have some spunk in her, right? For a moment there, I was actually going to believe her about her son coming over here that fast but then I realized that it wouldn’t be possible because no one knows where we are! Googly old hag!” Kurt spat on the ground and looked at Mike’s still-angry face. “Is this deep enough?” he asked.

Mike shot him an angry look then looked down on the hole on ground. It was wide enough for the crate and deep enough to stifle any sound coming from her if she comes to. “Fine! Get the crate in there and dump her inside. You’d need to bury her when I say, okay?!” he shouted at Kurt as if he was yards away.

“Yeah yeah yeah, I got it. You don’t have to bite my head off,” answered Kurt.

“Just get it done, now!” Mike snapped at him, which sent him scrambling to get the crate over to the hole he had dug.

Kurt dragged the crate over the side of the open hole and dropped it on the hole. He was thankful that the crate didn’t break apart when it landed with a loud thud. He went down and adjusted it so it would be even with the ground and so that it would fit perfectly on the small hole in the ground. The ground was moist and smelled rotten.

Well, she wouldn’t mind it so much when she’d smell like it soon enough, he chuckled to himself.

“Aren’t you done there yet? Help me lower her body there. If she’s right and her idiot son is not so idiotic after all, then he might be on his way here. Tell the boys to stay alert. I’ll keep contacting Gia to see if she’s there now, but we’ll still push through with the plan. If I can’t get Gia, I’ll call McElroy junior and ask for some cash. If he doesn’t cooperate, then we’d be better off leaving this old lady to rot here. She’s seen our faces so we can’t risk for her identifying us if she survives this shithole at all!” he exclaimed, then his lips transformed into an evil smile. “In any case, at least we’d still be killing someone today, with or without a payment. And its not because Gia had asked me to, I just don’t like this old bitch!” he said, dumping Linda’s limp but breathing body into the crate.

“Wait, the crate won’t close entirely. Her legs are sticking out like tree stumps,” Kurt said with a strained voice from all the hard labor he went through with digging the hole and hauling both the crate and Linda to the same hole.

“Then get her in there! I don’t care if you have to break her legs or cut them off so she’d fit! Just make sure that you close that crate so she won’t be able to escape,” was Mike’s angry answer.

“Sure thing, boss. I’ll go get her straightened out,” said Kurt the muttered something under his breath, Great! So I’m promoted to his minion now! Fuck! If this lady’s son doesn’t pay up, I’ll make sure that he gets in a box of his own! I’m not risking my life and getting all tired and dirty for one shitty kill! I want money and that’s what I’m gonna get!

“What was that?” Mike asked.

“Uh, no-nothing, boss. I just didn’t think this old lady would be that heavy, is all!” he replied and groaned over the weight of Linda’s legs. “Shit! How am I supposed to get you in there?” he asked himself. Then was surprised that the old lady was still limber for her age so he bent her legs up to her knees and placed both of her hands on top of her bent head. “There! Now, you’re all nice and cuddly in there!” he said, feeling proud of his work.

“C’mon then! Get that lid on and get out of there. Go check on the boys outside after you’re done.” Mike ordered.

“Okay, okay, I’m on it!”

Kurt closed the lid and hammered in the nails to make sure Linda doesn’t get out when she regains her senses.

“And thrown in some dirt already. We won’t know when they’ll discover her so better make it harder for them, eh?” Mike chuckled as Kurt joined him.

“Yeah! I’ll get on it then.”

Kurt grabbed the shovel and started putting back the dirt he had dug up back into the hole, filling up the sides first and then putting enough soil on top to conceal the crate. Mike wanted the hole to be dug right underneath the only window in that basement so they would know exactly where they buried her. After Kurt had finished, Mike placed a wooden chair on top of it to hide the disturbance of soil on the ground.

“Now, go check on the boys. I’ll try calling Gia again.”

“Okay, boss. Be right back then,” Kurt said then rolled his eyes as he walked away from Mike. Who does he think he is?! Ugh! You’ll get your day, Mike. For now, I’ll follow you around because you might actually get some cash out of that lady, he muttered as he reached the top of the stairs.

“Damn! Why aren’t you picking up Gia?” Mike said, as he got frustrated with not knowing where Gia was and what she wanted him to do next. He’s making up his plan as he goes along, which is not a good thing, especially with a rich old lady inside a whole. “What am I supposed to do now?” then he thought that he could just do exactly what he told Kurt, to call Morrison and ask for ransom. He only told Kurt of his seemingly brilliant plan to get him to follow him. If Kurt and those men outside found out that their boss wasn’t responding, they would surely flee and leave him with the burden of disposing the body, or worse, they’d kill him to get back at him for dragging them into that kidnapping job in the first place.

“Shit! Shit! Shit! What the hell! I ain’t got nothin’ else to lose anyway. Maria is as good as dead in her state of health right now and there’s no turning back for me,” he said, and then picked up his mobile phone to call the younger McElroy.

He’s got all their contact numbers, courtesy of Gia who asked in a favor from her other “friends”. He tried the home number but after ten rings, and two answering machines later, he gave up. He tried the office number and the same thing happened.

“Where the fuck is that kid? Shouldn’t he be waiting around for any calls from the kidnappers? He should be by the phone, ready to pick it up as soon as it rings, right? Shit!” he exclaimed. He was getting a lot frustrated over that job and he still can’t get Gia on her phone. “Damn it to hell! She could be buried in some rubble right now.” He sat down on the wooden chair he had placed on top of the crate and covered his face with both hands, groaning over his predicament.

Then, he heard footsteps outside and some thuds. “Shit! Who the fuck would that be?” he whispered to himself then perched on the chair to look outside the small window. He saw two men take out his men who were supposed to be looking out for intruders but they seemed to have fallen asleep. “Oh, stupid idiots!” he muttered then quickly got off the chair and was about to get up the stairs when he heard footsteps above.

“Oh, fuck! They’re here! Gotta hide quick!” Mike went behind the staircase and hid himself from the dim yellow light. He waited for the intruders to come in and the moment that he saw one foot on the middle of the steps, he grabbed it and rushed to clobber the guy, who was then on the floor, trying to recover from his fall.

He was about to shoot when the guy shot his foot out and swept him off his feet, making him lose his balance and accidentally losing his gun in the process.

“Shit! Oh no, you don’t!” Mike kicked the guy’s shins and got a satisfying groan out of him. He then got back up his feet and knocked the man over using his elbow, thrusting it forward and hitting the man’s nose, immobilizing him for a few seconds because of the blood that started to gush down his nose.

He then, dragged the man forward and dumped him on the ground, kicked his back and knocked him unconscious. Mike had to move fast because he heard another guy call out from above.

There’s another one. I have to move fast!

He dragged the unconscious guy over to the wooden chair that was propped on top of the hidden crate and positioned him where he could bind the man’s hands from behind the chair. He doesn’t hear a sound from the crate yet so he assumed that his captive was still unconscious. He heard the other guy call out again so he moved back to his original position underneath the stairs to lie in wait for another victim to fall to his trap.

 

That’s when he underestimated Morrison who has got him pinned down now and is shouting at him to tell him where his mother was. He just told Morrison that he wouldn’t kill him yet because he was the only one who knew where Linda McElroy is and he knows that’s the truth.

“You son of a bitch!” Morrison shakes the wounded man on the ground until Jake pats him on the shoulders and tells him to back off.

“The cops are here, Mr. McElroy,” Jake says, urging him to back off as the officers descend down the basement.

“What happened here? Mr. McElroy? Drop the gun, sir, slowly please,” the officer says to him in a calm voice after assessing the situation.

Mike lies bleeding on the floor, laughing as if he is enjoying everything that’s happening before him.

Morrison puts his hands up in the air and surrenders the gun to the officer. “Okay, officer. Take it,” he says.

“Thank you, sir,” the officer replies and takes the gun from Morrison’s hand. “Were you the one who shot this guy?” asks the officer.

“Yes, I did,” Morrison answers and looks at his nametag, “I did it, Officer Perez. But only because he was going to kill me first and knocked out my friend here, who wanted to help me find my mother. He still won’t tell us where they kept here!” he says angrily, spitting at Mike who is still smirking from his position on the ground.

“Men, take this man and sit him over there!” Officer Perez instructs his other companions then proceeds to question Morrison some more.

“I don’t know where she is! That’s the problem officer! Only he knows where my mother is… wait, the guy we knocked down earlier, the one outside, maybe he knows! Where is he?”

Morrison is already on his way out of the basement and into the living room, rushing to where they left Kurt. Luckily, he was still there, on his knees as officers were putting handcuffs on him.

“Wait, officers, we need to question him first,” he shouts and Officer Perez nods at the other cops. They slap the handcuffs on and gets Kurt to his feet so Morrison could question him.

“Where is your captive? Where is Linda McElroy?” asks Morrison in a calm but deadly voice.

Kurt looks from side to side and sees Mike being hauled out of the house. He is laughing and cursing like a crazy person with a wound bleeding from his shoulder. Mike gets a look at him and shouts,

“Don’t tell them where she is, Kurt! She’ll be in heaven or hell soon enough! Ha ha ha!” Mike’s evil laugh rings in the house and the outside.

Kurt looks at Morrison fearfully and swallows the lump in his throat. “Wh-what do you want?”

Kurt backs against the wall of the house as the cops don’t stop Morrison from advancing to him.

“Hey, hey, hold it! I surrendered! Help me here guys! This man’s going to beat me to a pulp!” Kurt looks at each of the officers surrounding them but no one goes to his aid.

“We don’t have any orders to interfere. Maybe he just wants to talk to you,” says one of the cops, then laughs as he turns his back to him.

Morrison punches him in the gut and holds him up by his hair.

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Lay off the hair, man! That hurts!” he complains as Morrison gives him another punch on the side of his body. “Shit! Okay, okay, you got me! What do you want?”

“Where is my mother?” says Morrison, his gaze never wavering as Kurt squirms from him. “Where did you take Linda McElroy?”

“She’s there! Inside the basement!” cries Kurt, closing his eyes as Morrison’s fist connects with his face.

“Don’t lie to me! If you lie to me one more time, I will put a bullet inside your head!”

“I-I’m not lying, I swear! She’s in there! She’s buried beneath the chair beside the window! She’s in a crate, we… ah… put her there…,” whispers Mike.

“What the fuck do you mean she’s in a crate? If I find out that you’re lying to me again, no one can save you!”

He lets go of Kurt and runs towards the basement along with Jake and the other officers as Kurt is taken to custody.

“Do you think he’s telling the truth?” Jake asks Officer Perez as they run behind Morrison.

“I think so. He’s one of those that sing whenever they’re backed up towards the wall. Well, we will find out soon enough,” was the officer’s answer.

“Mom!” Morrison shouts the moment he steps inside the basement. “Mom! Where are you?!”

No one answers then after a few seconds, they could hear a thudding sound from underneath their feet. They scramble towards the wooden chair that’s still on top of the spot where Linda is buried and they start digging through the dirt.

“Mom! I’m here, don’t worry, I’ll get you out of there! Hang on!” shouts Morrison as he digs his hands into the soil and feels something hard underneath his palms. “I think this is it. Who’s got a shovel? Hand it over to me!”

Someone hands him a shovel as the other police officers try to dig around the crate. They could hear her muffled shouts now as they dig out the moist soil around the crate.

Morrison yanks open the crate and hauls Linda out of the wooden prison she was in. “Mother! Are you okay? Stand still, help is coming. We need an ambulance!” He glances at the dirty face of her mother and feels relieved that he found her at last.

Linda looks around confused and groggy from being cooped up inside the crate for a long time.

“Wh-where am- am I?” she asks, looking up at Morrison and caresses his face as if to make sure he’s there. “M-morrison, son? Wh-where… How?” Linda doesn’t seem to know what she’s saying and where she is but Morrison is still thankful that she’s alive.

“Mom, its okay. Don’t speak anymore. Just let me take you up at the house and into the ambulance. You’ll be all right, mother. I’m here and I will always be here to protect you, okay? Come, let’s go. I’ve got you,” assures Morrison as Linda nods in agreement.

Officer Perez already has the ambulance ready when they reached the front porch of the house.

“Okay, mother. Please go with this nice young lady and she will take care of your injuries okay? I’ll be over there with the police officer for a few minutes and then I’ll go with you to the hospital. Are you going to be all right there inside the ambulance while I go over there?” he asks. He wants to make sure that Linda would not feel fear even if Morrison were not with her. He never wants to see her unsafe ever and he will make sure that his mother would be protected at all times moving forward. She is the only mother he’s ever known and despite him being adopted, she showed him what a mother should be to her child, always loving, caring, and even if she was overbearing sometimes, she’s only like that because she wants to protect him and keep him away from harm.

“Morrison dear,” she says, looking more lucid than how she looked a few minutes ago, “You go and take care of what you need to do. I’ll be fine, son.” Her reassuring words prompts him to do exactly what he needs to do, which is to ensure that he gets to the bottom of the whole thing.

He strides towards Officer Perez as the police officer radioed in the results of the whole operation to his superiors. The McElroys are considered to be high priority mainly because of their reputation and influence in the business industry and it was also considered a human interest story of an old rich woman who gets kidnapped in spite of her husband being in a coma. The media, by that time, had arrived and were clamoring to get an interview from Morrison but luckily, they were being subdued and kept at bay by other officers in the scene.

“Officer,” Morrison starts, “I would like to go with you to the precinct and question those in custody. I think, by now, you’ve also realized, that the one I shot needs to be evaluated thoroughly if he really has gone crazy or is only acting like it to avoid prosecution. But I can say that the other one we caught earlier as well as the two other men who were with them, are of their normal selves and would need to be questioned further about what happened here. I want to be present in these investigations, officer, and I would appreciate it if we question them tonight.” He waits for Officer Perez’ response with a firm face.

“Very well, Mr. McElroy, but you can go to the precinct later once you’ve deposited your mother to the hospital. Other officers would also need to ask her questions, but that can wait until tomorrow,” the officer replies.

“I truly appreciate this, Officer Perez. I would proceed to your precinct after about an hour. Thank you again,” says Morrison, shakes the  officer’s hand, and walks towards Jake who was currently being checked by another EMT.

“Hey, Jake, how are you?” he asks, patting the guy lightly on the shoulder.

“Oh, hey, boss. I’m okay. Just a few stitches here and there. How’s Mrs. McElroy?” Jake squints his eyes as the needle full of pain reliever medicine goes into his arm and makes a hissing sound.

“I think she’ll be okay. A little shaken up and bruised, but otherwise, fine. Look, I wanted to thank you for what you did back there. You could have been injured far worse than this but you went ahead and charged. I appreciate your dedication, Jake. And for saving my mother’s life.” Morrison shakes Jake’s hand firmly and nods at him.

“You saved your mother’s life, Mr. McElroy, because you came here on my suggestion. We didn’t even know if your mother was really in there but you still came here and listened to my every word. We wouldn’t have been able to save her if it wasn’t for you.” Jake looks at him sincerely and smiles through the pain of his wounds.

“Thanks, man. You go get some rest now.”

They say their farewells and Morrison strides back to the ambulance where his mother is waiting for him. “Mom, are you feeling better?” he asks.

She nods and asks him to sit with her as the ambulance drives them to the nearest hospital.

“Son,” she says in a small voice.

“Yes, mother?” he answers, taking her hand in his. She is lying on a stretcher as her legs were wrapped in bandage due to the scrapes she got from sitting in a bent position inside the crate for a long time.

“I’m sorry for getting you into all of this…” she begins to sob which starts to infuriate Morrison.

“Mother, please stop it,” he says calmly. “Stop saying that you’re sorry for everything that’s happened in the past which is coming back to haunt us now. I get it, you were young, and selfish that’s why you did what you did before. You stepped in a lot of people’s shoes when you were being your ugly vengeful self… And although I do not condone those acts, I cannot blame you for them for the results that are happening to us now. We all make mistakes but the important thing is, we repent and we realize that they were wrongful acts. So we move on… We take whatever it is, call it retribution or a comeuppance, whatever it may be, but we have to take it. I will take it mother and I know you’re being strong and taking it as well and I am proud of you for being who you are now, today. You’re changing into someone better… a better mom, a better wife, and, most importantly, a better person. But you or I, for that matter, will not be able to change completely without getting scarred, ourselves. We have to take what is coming for us and weather the storm.”

Linda is speechless and Morrison’s words moves her to tears. “Oh, Morrison… I could never be a prouder mom than right now… You have grown into such a wonderful person a mother could ever ask for… Oh, how I wish your father would see you now…,” sobs Linda as her son takes her into his arms and hugs her tightly.

“Dad would be fine, mom, I’m sure of it. He just needs more time to recuperate, you know how he is. He’s just taking his time in getting back to us. You’ll see, he’ll be awake soon…,” answers Morrison. “Listen, mother. I know what I said about us accepting our comeuppance, but I also would want Gia de Grassi to accept hers, which I would do. I would make sure she pays for having you kidnapped, mother. I know you might have wronged her about dad years ago, but snatching you up and leaving you there for good to die is unacceptable. So please allow me to go to Paris and seek her out. I’m sure the police would be well on their way in investigating this, but I also want to go to Cornelia who is in Paris at this very moment. Since you were kept in there, you might not know that Paris is in a state of emergency now because of a bombing in Boulevard Saint Germain. I want to make sure Cornelia is all right that’s why I have to go there as well as see what I can find out about Gia de Grassi.”

“I… I see… Okay, you go and look for her, Cornelia, right?” she asks.

“Yes, mother. I wish you could have met her before she left but with any luck, I might win her back and get her to come back with me here so you could also see how wonderful she is,” he answers.

Linda could see how happy Morrison gets by merely saying her name. She wishes her son to find true happiness and she she’s glad that it seems like he has. “Go, son. Go to her. And I’m sure no one can resist you, my son. I pity the woman for I know that she’s in for some of the best wooing anybody could ever have! Oh, I do hope she can restrain herself from falling all over you. I am fully confident you’ll get her back!” she chuckles as Morrison rolls his eyes at his mother’s banter. She pats him on his cheeks and says seriously, “I know you’ll do everything to get her back but make sure you leave her enough room to make a choice. We, women can sometimes be… err… how should I say it, complicated, is the right word… Yes, women can be quite complicated sometimes but once we make up their minds about loving a man, we rarely change it.”

Morrison hugs her mother again as the ambulance stops. They’ve reached the hospital. It’s the same one where Nick is as well.

“I want to see Dad first before going to the precinct,” says Morrison.

He checks with the nurse as his mother is wheeled in to get further treatment for her injuries. He bids her farewell for the moment and goes to his father’s room.

As he enters, he sees Nick still in a coma, still not able to move by himself or return to his senses. The younger McElroy sits on the chair beside the bed and pats his father’s hands.

“Dad, I’m happy to report that mother’s okay. She’s being treated right now and I’m guessing she’ll be up here right after they’ve addressed her wounds. I’ve already said my goodbyes to her as I am leaving for Paris later tonight. I just need to drop by the precinct and see what else I can gather from those thugs. But I will be flying straight to Paris to… to see Cornelia. Yes, dad, I lost her… She’s in Paris right now to take care of some things but I think mostly because she doesn’t want to see me or get close to me after I did what I did. I was so stupid! I thought that if I  pushed her away, she’ll be safe and out of danger from our enemies, when what I should have done is to keep her close and protect her from those who want to do us harm!” he sighs and bows his head.

He stays quiet for one full minute and then takes a deep breath and stands up. “I need to go dad. I’m sorry if I have to leave you now but Cornelia needs me and I won’t let her down. I love you and mom, dad. Please take care and if you feel like it, please wake up… We’re awfully excited to see your eyes…”

He bows his head again and gives his father a kiss on the forehead before walking out of the hospital room. He meets his mother in the hallway who is on her way to visit Nick.

“Mother, I have to go. I need to fly to Paris in an hour. I trust you’re okay? Do you need anything before I go?” he asks, drawing his mother to him to give her a last hug before he sets off.

“No, son. I have everything I need. You take care and you go and look for your girl. Make sure to bring her home with you so your mama can also see how she’s like. What’s her name by the way? Forgive me, with all these commotions, I never even asked for her name,” Linda apologizes.

“Oh, that’s okay, mother. We are all under so much stress, even her, because she just lost a very close friend of hers, who turned out to be her grandfather…,” he shakes his head as he remembers James. “Her name is Cornelia… Cornelia Masters. I’m sure you have not heard of her because she’s originally from Jersey and just moved here about four years ago. I’d be glad to introduce her to you when we get back… Just wish me luck that she still wants to be with me after I rejected her during that time that we rescued her from Gia’s thugs,” he says regretfully.

“Son, if you’re truly serious about this girl and if you really love her, you will make sure that she believes you and that she comes home with you. You are irresistible anyway, just like your Momma!” she says encouragingly as she pats his cheeks with her dainty hands.

“Oh, mother. I hope you are right… Well, I better go or I might miss my flight. Please take care and don’t stay up too late watching over Dad. I’ll call you when I get there.” He hugs her again and plants a kiss on her forehead.

As her son leaves the exit door of the hospital, she feels a little saddened that he will be away from her again. She had just been rescued from her captors and even though she didn’t sustain any major injuries from her struggle, she still feels traumatized by the ordeal. When Morrison was out of sight, she slumps on the hospital chair along the hallway and places her face between her hands. She breathes deeply and closes her eyes to keep her fears at bay. She fears of being back in a dark box with her body contorted in order to fit inside. Ever since she was kidnapped, she’s been trying to keep herself calm and cool at any situation. She never showed panic or fear to her captors and apart from Morrison rescuing her, her resolve to keep calm helped her in surviving her capture.

If she had crumbled during the time that she was held captive, she would have surely died much quicker or went out of her mind with paranoia. “I should continue to be strong… We’re not out of the woods yet. Nick is still in a coma. God,” she whispers, “if you are real and if you are merciful, please forgive me for my many sins and please… please… wake Nick up. Let him come back to us. We need him… I need him. Please…” she begs and then stands up slowly to go to Nick’s room.

She looks at the familiar bed with silver railings and its cold steely feel. Nick lie in the middle of the bed, with the beddings freshly changed and the pillows nicely fluffed. Linda had never felt so lonely and desolate with the thought of Nick never waking from his deep sleep.

“Oh Nick. Look what life has taken us now. I never thought that you would ever look helpless and sick. You always seemed so strong and so sure of yourself. I miss your cocky attitude whenever you tell me to take things lightly and not think about problems that much. I miss your seriousness as well when it comes to your business. And I miss you looking at me with love in your eyes.”

Linda has never been one to show her emotions, especially to her husband of many years. They were, after all, married for convenience. Their families were better off when they got married and it was always how Nick pictured it, except for Linda. She had fallen for Nick the first time she saw him and since then on, she had made everything possible for them to be together, even if it meant convincing her father to marry her off to him for the good of their companies. Maybe they were never meant to be because ever since they got married, a lot of unfortunate things happened. She never gave birth and she learned during the first year of their marriage, that she could never bear children. Nick had his first affair with that Julie Wilson, and then a few others, then finally, with Gia de Grassi.

“Oh I’m sorry Nick. I truly am… And if I could take it all back, I would. I would never want you to end up this way. I should have let you go years ago. I shouldn’t have ignored the signs that we were not meant to last…”

“No, Linda… We are meant to be…,” comes Nick’s weak voice.

Linda’s head shoots up and she looks at Nick’s open eyes. She rushes to him from position outside the door and takes his hand in hers. “Oh Nick! You’re awake! Oh my God! You are awake!” she whips around and calls out for a nurse to come and help her. “Nurse! Nurse! My husband’s awake! Come quick!” she shouts as some of the nurses scramble to get inside to check the monitors on the side of his bed.

“Li-inda? Wh-where am I? What h-happened?” he asks Linda who gives him a tight hug and showers him with kisses on his face. Despite his confusion, he is pleasantly surprised at his wife’s public show of affection towards him. “Did I die and went to heaven?” he asks jokingly, turning to Linda and covering her hand with his.

“Don’t you remember the accident? You were in a car crash, honey and you’ve been in a coma for a few weeks now. I am so glad you’re finally awake! Oh, wait until Morrison hears about this. I’ll give him a call,” she says, picking up her phone and dialing her son’s number. It rings a few times then the voicemail comes on. “Oh, yes, that’s right. He’s probably on his way to the airport. He’s going to Paris on a plane tonight because there’s this huge bombing that happened there and he told me that his girlfriend is actually there and he needs to go get her. Our son is such a romantic! So, how are you feeling? Is there something wrong?” she asks because the look on Nick’s face turned from surprise to dread.

“C-Cornelia? Is he going to see Cornelia?” he asks but is not really looking at Linda but the wall right in front of him.

“Yes, he said that she went there after some relative of hers died. So, he wants to follow her and see if she’s all right and then plans to take her back here to introduce her to us,” was Linda’s answer.

“Oh no! Don’t you realize what this means? He’s going to see Cornelia! The same Cornelia Wilson who is James Wilson’s granddaughter… Julie’s daughter…,” he looks slowly at Linda whose expression has also changed into one who suddenly realized who Cornelia really was.

Oh, my, God! I thought her name sounded familiar! I should have known! Oh my…, she thought as she contemplates on telling Nick the whole truth behind him not finding out where his daughter had gone all these years.

“Nick… I have to tell you something… I do hope that you don’t condemn me for what I am about to tell you. Please know that this was a time when I was young and stupid and didn’t know a thing about being good.” She looks at him and his empty expression and awaits for his answer.

“Go on,” was the coldest answer she ever got from anybody.

“Remember all those years ago… about you and Julie?”

“Yes? What about it?” he asks, knowing full well that Linda already knew about it from the beginning.

“Well, I harassed Julie then, embarrassing her in front of the people in the  community  she lived in and I even tried to tarnish her reputation… All because you had an affair with her. I warned her to stay away from you, which she had explicitly demanded that I didn’t have to tell her because she has already left you then. I never did anything to her car or anything! Please believe me. I was just that vengeful bitch of a wife who wanted her to get away from you. So after she died and her daughter was turned over to the state, I pulled some strings to hide her from the system and put her in an orphanage in Jersey. Not until she ran away that, I realized that she had been there for six years after her mother passed.” She stops to take a breath and check on what Nick’s reaction was.

“So you mean to tell me that you knew all along where she was and what had happened to her all this time?!” he exclaims.

She expected this. She expected angry words and probably things hurled around the room or Nick ordering her to get away from him but she wouldn’t have been prepared for his response.

“Yes, Nick, I did. Well, I didn’t know what happened to her after she ran away from the orphanage and I just realized that she was even there when I heard pf her escape from the local radio. Nick… I know that I look like the evil bad guy in everything moving forward from that day, but please remember that I only did all those things because I was so desperately trying very hard to keep our family intact. I couldn’t let anyone destroy it, let alone someone who was years younger than I was with that kind of beauty and grace. I was so scared of that thought that you might leave me for her that I did some stupid things… But I never wanted to do them harm, just get rid of them from our lives. I never wanted…” she stops and lets the sentence hang in the air.

“Linda… I’m sorry,” Nick says. Linda’s eyes flew open and she looks directly at him.

“Wh-what?” she asks, not quite believing what she heard. “Wh-what did you say?”

“I said I’m sorry for putting you through so much pain and suffering. If it weren’t for my indiscretions, you wouldn’t have to resort to those things…,” he says, holding out his hands to hers. “But Cornelia is my daughter no matter what and I won’t let anyone destroy what we will have, if she would still want to know me as her father… I won’t let anyone get in the way of our reconciliation… even you, Linda. I’m sorry but if you’re going to be against all of this, I-,” he stops when Linda places two fingers on his lips.

“Shhh… I won’t get in the way anymore. I have found my peace with your flaws because I know that I have plenty as well. I want you to be together with your daughter too, and I hope that after some time… when wounds have been healed and grudges forgotten, that you and your daughter, Cornelia, would let me get to know her better.”

Nick gathers her hands in his and pulls her forward. “Linda, you will always be the woman for me and I will always be the man for you. We’ve been through a lot and we will get through a lot more. But the important thing is, we are still together. Let’s make things right… together,” he says to his wife of more than forty years as she nods at him and gives him a reassuring kiss.

After a few minutes, they both walked at the same time again regarding the issue that they’re both aware of but are hesitant to open up. “They’re siblings… Well, stepsiblings. They would not be related by blood since Morrison is adopted but how do you think they’d cope with that information?”

“I know Morrison and based on what I have observed from Cornelia when she worked for me is, that they both have very open minds about any situation. We just need to tell them the truth before anything else happens. Could you try calling Morrison again?” asks Nick who had been checked by the doctor just a few minutes ago.

“Okay, I’ll try. He might be on the plane by now but I do hope that he still keeps his phone on,” replies Linda then proceeds to redial Morrison’s phone number.

“Hello, Mom? Sorry, I was driving earlier. What is it? Are you okay?” he asks anxiously.

“Morrison, honey, your dad’s awake! He just came to a few minutes ago,” she says excitedly over the phone.

“That’s great, Mother! I can’t wait to see him when I get back from Paris. Please tell him that I’ll be home as soon as I find Cornelia and make sure she’s ok,” he says excitedly.

“Um… that’s what I needed to talk to you about.”

“Well, what is it mother?” he asks.

“Here’s your dad, he’ll explain better…” There is a rustling sound as Linda gives the phone over to Nick.

“Hi Morrison! How are you son?” Nick asks.

“Dad! You are really awake! Oh my gosh! How are you feeling?” Morrison asks. He’s up in the air, having boarded the plane about half an hour earlier. He is scheduled to land in a few hours and then he’ll go straight to Cornelia’s hotel afterwards.

“I’m okay, son. Listen… I have something very important to tell you. This might come as a shock to you but I have some news about… about Cornelia,” Nick says cautiously.

“Wh-what about her? Do you have news about her? W-what do you know about her current condition?” Morrison asks, getting more aggravated by the second upon hearing his father’s serious tone saying that he had some news about Cornelia.

“Son, calm down. I have some information about her past, not about right now. I understand you’re on your way to her… to the bombing site in Paris where she might be… I want to come with you if I could but as of the moment, I cannot. I will do so shortly though…” replies Nick, trying to buy time until he tells his son about his daughter.

“Why would you come here too? What about her, dad? Tell me!” Morrison’s voice has risen a bit because of the confusion about his dad knowing something about the woman he loves.

“Cornelia… is my biological daughter. Her mother, Julie, James’ daughter… I had an affair with her before Cornelia was born and the reason why she ran away then was that she thought I didn’t want the baby or her… I was younger and stupid and I did everyone wrong, especially your mother. I only just found out about it when I was at James’ funeral, when I saw her there and overheard her taking over the companies because she is the legal heir. I’ve always had this feeling of something unexplainable whenever I saw her, like an inexplicable bond with her… and this is the reason why… I’m sorry that I had to drop the ball like this. I wish I could have told you this in person but I didn’t want to wait until you saw her again. I will come and see her too to tell her the truth, if she hasn’t found out yet…”

Morrison is speechless and his mind is reeling from the information that Nick just told him. His throat starts to close up as he gulps to try breathing normally. “What?!” he exclaims as the realization dawns on him. “So, she’s your daughter? Wh-what… H-how? You know what, nevermind. I need to think about her and her safety right now. I- I can’t process what you just told me… I need some time… I… I’ll talk to you when I can. I have to go, Dad.” He doesn’t wait for Nick to respond anymore. He puts his mobile phone down and stares at it for a full minute.

Cornelia is my dad’s daughter. So that would make us family, basically, right? I mean, were not blood-related but we are related… Oh shit! What a twisted way to end this day! And does she know about this? Does she know that we’re practically brother and sister? No, no, no… we’re stepbrother and stepsister! There’s a big difference.

He slams his fist on the small table he has on the private jet. He decided to take the jet instead of taking a regular flight out to Paris. He needed to get there as soon as possible and as much as he doesn’t want to waste the company’s resources for his personal trips, he needed it this time due to the urgency of the matter. He can’t waste any more time in finding her. He hasn’t been able to contact Theo for the past hour and he’s not sure if Theo lost his phone or got injured or what. He tries to think of the times he and Cornelia were together.

So that’s why my dad was close to her and that’s probably what she’s doing in his study the first time I saw her in the Hamptons. She must have been snooping around to know if Nick McElroy was really her father! And then she just made up an excuse of them having an affair so I won’t suspect, and then tells me the truth only to tell me another lie that she just wanted to be in Dad’s good graces that’s why she snuck up there to try to persuade him to give her a job in his office? And I was so gullible to believe her lies all those times!

He looks out the window of the jet and sees the Parisian skyline. The jet was quick but he did give specific instructions to make it quick because he needed to find Cornelia right away. He’s been hoping that she is, after all, safe inside her hotel room, waiting for news about the bombing attacks and not go to the place and try to help out the wounded. He’s known her for a while and even though she hasn’t gone to charities or participated in philanthropic activities, she’s got a good heart and she’d want to help out in any way she can. He does plan to send out their own volunteers or set up a program for the tragedy that has befallen the great city.

“Sir, we will land in a few minutes, please prepare for landing,” the pilot says into the speaker.

He looks out the window and sees one part of the city in flames and thick with smoke. He gets a closer look and sees people and emergency personnel on the ground, running around and rescuing people who need their help. He wants to get down right away and see what he can do while he looks for Cornelia.

He receives a call from his office and is informed that his father had already set up a team to assist him in Paris the moment he lands. Morrison closes his eyes and despite his confusion about his father’s recent recovery and mind-boggling revelation, he’s still thankful to him for thinking about him and his quest in finding Cornelia.

“Okay, thank you for letting me know. I’ll look for him when I land,” he says to the person who informed him. He was informed that a man would meet him to take him where he needs to go.

The plane lands after ten more minutes and as he walks down the flight of stairs, he sees the man who will take him to the places he intends to go. He shakes Hector’s hand, his driver as he was greeted in French for his arrival. They drive towards Cornelia’s hotel right away as soon as Morrison gave him the instructions. He receives another call and it’s from Barret.

“Hey, Morrison, are you in Paris?” Barret asks, sounding as if he is in a hurry or running around somewhere.

“Hey, man. Yes, I just landed. Where are you? Aren’t you with Cornelia?” he asks sounding a little annoyed at the guy. He just realized that Barret was with Cornelia so why is he calling him now.

“I left a few hours ago and I’m still on my flight actually. I heard about the bombing a couple of hours ago and I’ve been trying to reach Cornelia or Kevin for the past hour. I can’t turn back now since I’m already so far away and the airlines cannot turn back now. I’ll catch the next flight out once I land. Where are you? She’s at the Four Seasons, at the eighth floor. I tried the hotel but I can’t get through due to the lines being down. I suggest you try Kevin’s number as well but I haven’t been able to reach him either,” Barret says over the humming of the plane in his background and other people talking.

“Okay, I got it. I’m on my way to the hotel now and I’ll make sure to check her room and Kevin’s as well. Thanks for telling me, Barret.” Morrison is sincere in thanking Barret and even if he’s still jealous over the time Barret and Cornelia had between them when they were both in Paris, he knows that Barret took care of her and she would have been better off if Barret was still with her the moment the bombing happened.

“You make sure you find her and take her to safety, Morrison. I’ll call you from time to time. I gotta go,” he says goodbye and clicks off.

Morrison arrives at the hotel and goes immediately to her room the moment he found out where it was exactly from the receptionist. The hotel room is empty so he goes looking for Kevin but he is not there as well.

“Where the hell could they be?” he exclaims as he gets in the car. He’s stuck and doesn’t know where to go next. He decides to go to the nearest police precinct and see what he can do for the victims. He asks Henry to take him to the nearest police station while he calls the person in-charge of the rescue program his father had started back in New York. He spends some time on the phone and by the time he arrives at the police station, he has deployed about two dozen volunteers from their satellite office in Paris. He mobilized funds from their budget that’s allotted for philanthropic activities and sent it over to those who would be in-charge of their program in the city. He goes into the precinct and coordinates with the chief there, offering him any help he could and gathers information on the things they need to make their rescue operations even more effective. At the same time, he has asked his driver to get information about Cornelia since he doesn’t speak the language and it would save time for Henry to get whatever information he could while he talks with the chief in that precinct.

Meanwhile, Barret lands in JFK and the moment he steps out of the tarmac and into the airport lobby, he looks for a flight back to Paris. He’s not looking where he was going and then bumps into someone real hard, sending them both sprawling on the floor.

“Oh! I’m truly sorry, miss!” he exclaims as he got to his feet fast and assists the woman he bumped into. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going and -,” he stops talking and just looks at the woman who has the same surprised expression as he.

“Barret!” Sally breathed. “Wh-what are you doing here?” she asks, looking incredulously at him as if not believing that he’s really there in front of her.

“Sally, I, ah… Wh-what are you doing here? I just came from Paris a few hours ago but I’m actually on my way back because of the bombing -,”

Sally suddenly grabs him and hugs him to her. Then draws away from him to give him a kiss full on the mouth. Barret remains speechless and rooted to his place, his expression turning from confused into somewhat pleasantly surprised.

“What was that for?” he asks with a smile.

“Oh Barret! I am so glad you’re here! I was so afraid of what might have happened to you! I heard about the bombing there and I knew you were in Paris. I couldn’t stand to stay lying around here, waiting for any more news from the victims and survivors so I packed up one bag and decided to look for the next flight out to Paris. I’m sorry Barret. I was stupid and confused and didn’t want to admit that I had fallen for you the moment we met at that parking lot. I was so afraid to let my heart be open again that I chose to flee instead of fight for you. I chose to be on the safe side and pushed you away because of my fear… But it struck me that I don’t want to be away from you anymore and live my life in fear of the possibilities of a good future after I my  horrible past…” she starts sobbing as Barret takes him to the nearest chair and sits her down.

He strokes her hair and her face. “Listen, Sally. I understand that you were afraid and that you thought that you might just get your heart broken again… And I am willing to wait until you get past your fear. I don’t want to force you into anything because I love you… Yes! I love you. I want to protect you and mend your broken heart. I want to be your knight in shining armor who would save you from the dragon! I am a corny guy and a hopeless romantic and I love you!” he shouts, making other people’s heads turn towards them but he doesn’t care. “I could do this all day and shout to the world how much I love you, Sally. If that’s what it takes for you to believe me.”

Sally chuckles despite her tears and puts her hands on his face. “You have to know something else about me… I, ah,… Its very hard for me to say this but I want to be completely honest with you…,” she whispers and bows her head.

Barret turns her face up to meet his and whispers, “I know, Sally… I want to rip his face out of head and wipe him off from the face of the earth! But don’t worry, he’s gotten his due…” he says with controlled rage, his eyes burning and his voice strained. “The moment I found out, I knew that I had to get back to you. If my conclusions are correct, you are afraid of what I might think about you when I found out… But I don’t think any less of you, Sally. Instead, I admire you even more for being so strong and for pulling through all that trauma and bad luck that happened to you…”

She looks at him in shock and she can’t believe how he came to know of that. “H-how did you know? I never told anybody. And what do you mean about him getting his due?”

“I had someone look into it. I knew there was something more to what you were not telling me… I’m sorry I had to get someone to dig through your past. I didn’t mean to find out… I just wanted to make sure you were all right after you left me so I hired someone to look after you and being a thorough guy, the man I hired dug around and found out about what happened to you… Don’t worry, I’ve had him taken care of. He won’t be bothering you anymore. Don’t ask anymore, Sally, I want to protect you from everything harmful in your life. Please, come with me… I want to go back to Paris to check on Cornelia for she depends on me as her closest friend. Morrison is already there looking for her but he needs all the help he can get to find her, would you join me?”

She’s still confused as to what he said about taking care of Larry but decides to let it go and move on. Barret is her new life now and she’d be damned if she lets him go again for the second time. She nods with a smile and they embrace for a long time before setting off to find the next flight out to Paris.

Barret had hired someone the first week they were in Paris, to look into Sally. He didn’t want to do it at first but he couldn’t help but be curious about Sally and because he was going crazy with longing for her. He just needed to know if she was safe and she was but then the man he hired found something about her during her past job and reported it to Barret. He was crazy mad at what he found out that he ordered the man he hired to teach Larry a lesson. That night, Larry’s restaurant had a fire and he broke his leg. All of his money and assets burned down along with his restaurant. Barret was satisfied with that but if he was given the chance, he would have had Sally send the police to Larry and arrest him for raping her. But he knew that she would rather keep it a secret her whole life rather than do something about it, so he did. He wasn’t proud of what he did but he would do it again to protect the woman he loves.

Together, they board the plane on their way to Paris… to a new life… to their newfound love… and no one and no past could ever break their love for one another. They have found their futures with each other.

 

Chapter VI

 

Cornelia coughs and sits up from the hospital bed. She looks around and sees white walls and an IV stuck in her arm. She lies back down as nausea hits her like a freight train.

“Ahhh,” she groans as a nurse comes to look in on her.

“How are you feeling, Miss Wilson?” the nurse asks.

Cornelia clears her throat as the nurse gets her a glass of water. “I’m not sure what I’m feeling really… Where am I?” she asks then gulps down the drink. She didn’t realize she was so thirsty until she got a taste of water.

“You’re at the American Hospital of Paris, mademoiselle. You were brought here from the blast site. You were lucky that the ambulance was able to get here on time before you bled out too much,” the nurse says while adjusting her pillow.

“What do you mean bled out? I wasn’t injured or bleeding when I got into the ambulance. Maybe you are talking about the woman with me and her infant baby. Oh, how are they by the way?” she asks, thankful that her nurse could understand her fully and doesn’t have any distinguishable accents. She must not be originally from Paris as well.

“Oh, yes, they are okay. The baby has done exceptionally well, having a very strong body and a healthy appetite as well. They are resting in one of the rooms in this floor as well. You were bleeding when you came in and it’s good you were treated right away or else, you might have lost the baby if you had waited for another hour before coming in.”

The silence inside the room is deafening as Cornelia tries to comprehend what the nurse just told her. “Excuse me?” she asks, thinking that maybe she just heard it wrong. Maybe the nurse pertained to the infant that the woman she saved had in her arms.

“You are in your first trimester, ma’am, it is the most vulnerable time for you and your baby so you must not get stressed and take plenty of rest. I’ll come back for you later to change your IV, okay? Do you need anything else?” the nurse asks the wide-eyed patient

“Hmm? Nu-uh, I’m f-fine…,” she answers absentmindedly, still shocked at the news she accidentally got from the nurse.

The nurse politely went out and left her alone with her thoughts.

Oh my God! I’m pregnant? I’m pregnant! I- I can’t believe it! Oh, my God!

There are many things that are going on inside her head at the moment but all she could think of clearly now is Morrison. She knows that he is the father because he is the only one she’s ever been intimate with. She tries to count the days from the last time she had her period and remembered that she did not get her period that month. She’s been in Paris for nearly a month so the baby is about a month or nearly two months old. She looks down on her tummy and feels its still-flat surface. She doesn’t feel any differently yet but she remembered that she had been prone to more dizzy spells over the past few weeks. She hasn’t run that much either with all the things she needed to do in Paris and all the things that happened before James died.

She places her hand on her tummy and feels herself get emotional over the thought if having a baby… and even more emotional at the thought that it’s Morrison’s baby.

“Hello, baby? How are you? Are you okay down there? Mommy’s sorry she hasn’t taken care of herself that well… But now that I know you’re there, I will make sure that Mommy gets all the rest she needs and more and eat healthier food. Oh baby… I’m going to take care of you with the best of my abilities… I love you,” she whispers, feeling a tear roll down her cheeks. She never thought that she would ever have a baby, let alone have it at her young age. But of all the feelings and emotions going on inside her head and heart, she doesn’t feel any tinge of regret.

She looks up and wipes her tears, “Mom… gramps… I’m sure you’re there and I’m sure you’re very  happy for me as I am ecstatic over this pregnancy. There’s another Wilson who will continue your legacy. I miss you both…,” she sobs with joy.

She feels tired and sleepy so she rests for another hour. When she awakes, she flips on the television and learns more about the latest news on the bombing. The media are broadcasting the names of those who have died because of the blast as well as the injured and missing. She listens and looks through the list that’s posted in front of the television screen. Then she gasps as she sees Kevin’s name on screen. His full name is Kevin Hill, which he told her before, and as she sees his name on the television, she picks up the phone on her bedside table and calls her office. She learns that there are many employees who lived near the Boulevard who died, including Kevin, who was supposedly having diner in that place the night before, according to the police reports. The cops had already  informed his office since he didn’t have any next of kin on the identification card he had on. Only his office name and address so the police reported their findings to T.W. Industries and the head of Human Resources and the whole team are busy in coordinating with the families of the employees who died or were injured or missing.

She feels saddened by what happened to Kevin as well as the other employees. So after hearing the news, she advises the person on the other line that she will conduct a meeting as soon as she is able to see what kind of help they can give the victim’s families, and gives her consent to the person in charge to use whatever kind of resource they need since she is also indisposed.

She gets off the phone after talking  with the person in charge for about half an hour, giving instructions and directives on what they should be doing to help.

There is a sudden knock on the door as she replaces the phone on the receiver. “Yes, come in, please?” she answers.

She freezes and could not speak. In front of her, stands Morrison, his hair tousled and still wonderful-looking despite the disarray. His tie is askew it looks like he hasn’t gotten any sleep for days. He rakes his hands through his hair and looks at her intensely.

“Cornelia…,” he whispers then as if by force of nature, he takes two steps towards her bed and takes her in his arms, wrapping his big arms around her and squeezes her tight. “Oh, baby… How I missed you! I’m so glad you’re all right! Oh, Cornelia. I almost went crazy with worry… How are you feeling?” he lets her go but he still has his hands on her arms and rubs them up and down.

Cornelia looks up at him and suddenly, all the pent up emotions  she tried hiding, all those intense feelings she feels towards him plus the stress of the bombing and the realization of having his baby, pours out of her and she sobs with huge drops of tears. Morrison hugs her to him and whispers soothing words as she is wracked with sobs.

“Shh… there… It’s going to be okay, babe. I’m here… and I’m never going to go anywhere else… if-if you’d still have me,” he whispers.

She looks up at him and because of all her feelings pouring over, she just nods and hugs him to her again. She’s done pretending. She’s done fighting alone. She’s done being alone in the world when there are people who want to be a part of her life. She will have them in her life and she will have a life with these people. She will no longer hold on to what happened to her past and the things she lost in the past. She decides to move on and get on with life, taking all the lessons her past have given her but not to allow the past to rule her future.

She draws away from him and clears her throat. “I’m sorry, Morrison. I was just overwhelmed with all that’s happened. What are you doing here? Isn’t Mr. McElroy still in the hospital? What made you come all the way here?”

“Cornelia… Dad has pulled through his coma and is now doing better,” he starts while looking at her cautiously.

“Oh, that’s good… Well, uhm, tell him to get even better soon and to take care of himself…,” she whispers, thankful that Nick had pulled through. Even if he isn’t the ideal father she always wished for, he is still her father and one day, when she’s ready, she will face him and tell him the truth herself.

“Why don’t you tell him yourself when we get back? They’re waiting for you… I know that you might not be able to forgive them right now, my mother and Nick, but believe me, they have changed, and they want to be a part of your life… He knows… I know that you are his lost daughter and that your mother is Julie Wilson, James Wilson’s daughter…,” he finally tells her.

It takes a few seconds for her to move from her spot and react to what he told her. “What d-do you mean you know?” she gulps. She didn’t think that he would find out that soon and she didn’t know how to react.

“I know darling, and it doesn’t change anything about how I feel about you. I still love you and it actually made me love you more because despite everything that you’ve been through, you stayed strong and true to yourself. Nick informed me the moment he woke up and my mother wants to explain herself to you… She knows that she had given your mother such a hard time before but she’s changed, Cornelia. She wants to make it up to you if you would allow her… But no pressure, babe. You don’t have to make any decisions right away. I’m just letting you know that you don’t have to hide anything anymore. I love you and I want to be a part of your life…,” he says sincerely.

“Oh, Morrison…,” she cries, “I have tried very hard to stay true to myself but I don’t think that I have done so enough. Everything’s been so hard to get through. I’m surprised that I’m still standing here.” I also have something to confess.” She looks at him uncertainly, thinking if it is the right time to break the news of wait for a few weeks until she’s sure. Her conscience tells her to tell him because he deserves to know because he’s the father. She doesn’t want him to go on for weeks without knowing.

“What is it, Cornelia? Tell me, don’t be afraid…,” he urges as he sits on the bed and cradles her to him.

“Umm, I’m pregnant… and it’s yours,” she whispers.

Morrison doesn’t respond right away for a few seconds.

“Say something, Morrison… Don’t leave me guessing here,” she says when he still did not respond.

“Woohoo!” he suddenly exclaims which startles Cornelia but looking at his reaction, all his shouting and whoops of joy, she feels happy that her fear of him not wanting the baby was all for naught. He did want the baby and he looks ecstatic about having a child. “Oh! You’re not kidding, right? Woohoo! This is the happiest day of my life!” he shouts.

Some of the nurses took a peak at the open room as Morrison dances around like an idiot over the news of him being a father.

“Okay, okay, take it easy Morrison,” she chuckles. “Don’t break everything in here…”

“Okay, I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I’m just so happy! Oh, Cornelia! You’ve made me the happiest person ever! I love you!” he kisses her fully in the mouth for a long passionate moment and proceeds to rubbing her flat belly. “When do you think he’ll show? What name is best for him?” he asks excitedly.

“Or her. We don’t know yet,” she interjects.

“Oh yes of course, her. What name would you want if he turns out to be a she? Oh, do you think we could have twins?” he asks. He’s acting like he’s been given the best Christmas gift.

“Hey, hold your horses there, mister. Take it easy…,” she warns laughing at his adorable reaction.

“I’m sorry, honey. I’m just so happy. I love you…”

 

 

 

Epilogue

They talked for most of the day and she was discharged the next day after the doctor gave her specific instructions to take it easy and rest. Morrison was so ecstatic that wanted to tell his parents right away but respected Cornelia’s wish to postpone the announcement until they get back. They had a lot of things to do before they went back to the states. Morrison took charge of the relief operations of their company and doubled up with the ones in charge of Cornelia’s companies. The two big companies, McElroy and Wilson, joined forces to bring help and relief to the victims of the bombing as the French government continued to investigate who the perpetrators of the terrorist attack were.

Gia de Grassi completely recovered from her ordeal and turned herself in to the cops about her involvement with Nick McElroy’s accident and the bogus lawsuit she filed against him. Linda, personally went to see Gia and together, the two women came to terms with their differences and both forgave each other of the years of feuding they’ve set upon each other. Linda wanted to come clean to the police about her lawsuit against Gia as well but Gia, herself stopped her, telling her that all had come full circle. Due to the McElroys not suing her, Gia paid a fine for her bogus lawsuit and had some other lighter punishment.

The first time that Nick and Cornelia got together, emotions were high and lots of talk happened. Words that were kept for so many years were finally unleashed and spoken to the people who deserved to listen to them. Linda had begged forgiveness from Cornelia about her unforgivable acts to her mother.

“I will be very honest in telling you that the things that you have done to my mother were beyond anything that I can forgive now. She’s the only family I had before I came to know James and you drove her away and caused her so much heartache… I thought before that there was some foul play to what happened to her, I guess it was me wanting to pin her death to someone specific whom I could take revenge on… But I guess that the only foul play that happened that day was her hear in pieces. I cannot forgive you for what you have done…,” she said as Linda nodded and swallowed the lump in her throat. “But the heartache that you also had over your husband having another woman and even conceiving an offspring, must have been unbearable as well… that might have pushed you to lose your senses and make bad decisions of your own… I know that you’re not going to be able to forgive their affair and I could never forgive your revenge on her… but we can both move past it and live on. I know that my mother would want that for both of us. She had a good heart and I know that she’s happy where she is now…”

The two women nodded at each other, they did not embrace or shed tears of joy with each other, but they came to terms with each other’s circumstances and set aside their differences, hoping that in time, they could even be friends.

Kevin had a decent funeral back in James’ old property in New York where they spent the early years of their lives there. They never knew of his plots against Cornelia and they never knew that on his last day on Earth, he went to one of the cafes in the boulevard to meet with his henchman to tell him to call if all off. He had thought about his circumstances and came to terms to his lot in life. He realized that he should be thankful for what he had and not long for anything more… His greed got the better of him but on his final day, he was able to set things right before he left the world.

Barret and Sally caught up with Cornelia and Morrison in Paris and even spent a few weeks together, both exploring the city and Sally even made friends with Cornelia. It was like they both found their best buds in each other, which made the two men in their lives ecstatic for that means that they could all move on to better days in their lives.

 

“And congratulations to the newlyweds!” Barret exclaims after Cornelia and Morrison got married two months after they got back to the states. It was a small gathering of friends and family for Cornelia didn’t want a big wedding. They had the small ceremony at the park where they first bumped into each other.

Morrison gazes into Cornelia’s eyes and sees his forever in them. He never felt anything like it in all his life. It was as if his life is now complete. All that time when he was away and looked for people to help because it made him feel complete when he did so, it was all just a preview to what he was about to have with Cornelia. He was going to have the time of his life when they start their lives together as husband and wife and the thought of raising their kid together, with all their previous struggles all behind them was all he could ever ask in the world.

He knows that they will have problems and struggles still but that they could beat whatever it was, together.

Cornelia looks at Morrison’s expression as he looks at her and down to her belly and feels in her heart that she made the right choice in letting all her guards down, that time when he visited her in the hospital in Paris. If she didn’t let herself open up to the possibilities of having a future with him, it would have been a totally different scene that she would be looking at that day.

But she did make the right choice. She did not let her past haunt her forever. She did not let her hate control the rest of her life. She did not close her doors to the world.

And because of the choices she made, she will have a life with her new child and her husband by her side.

Yes, she did not get the revenge she so desperately wanted form the moment she lost her mother, and yes, she did not destroy those whom she thought was the reason her life was in pieces… but she got more than that in return. She got more than she bargained for.

“Honey?” Morrison asks, taking her by the waist and drawing her to him as they look out towards the gardens of their new home in Upstate New York. “What are you thinking?”

She turns her head to his to give him a kiss and wraps her arms around him. It’s been getting harder for them to embrace each other because Cornelia has been steadily growing. It’s her ninth month and she’s ready to pop anytime soon.

“Hmmm, nothing… I was just thinking about what I was doing the same time last year… I was living in another apartment then, waiting tables… It was about a week before I moved to Barret’s apartment building, when I just got the job at your firm.”

“Ah, I remember. The moment I saw you on the ground, pissed off at me for bumping into you, I was mesmerized by your beauty and body,” he chuckles as she nudges him at the stomach. “Ouch! What? It’s true… I was so blinded by your beauty that I couldn’t speak for a full minute until- ouch! What was that for?” he asks while still chuckling.

“I-I’m…ah!” she screams and that’s when Morrison knows that she’s not kidding anymore.

“Oh! Cornelia! Are- are you? Is this it?” he asks, moving around like he didn’t know what to do.

“Yes! This is it! Get my overnight bag from underneath the couch and call the driver,” she orders calmly while clutching her stomach. The pain is getting unbearable but she holds on to sanity until Morrison loads her into the car.

“Okay, okay, we’re all right. Take us to the hospital quick! Step on it!” he shouts at the driver as they pull out of the driveway.

After a few minutes, they reach the hospital and Cornelia is wheeled inside the delivery room. She has progressed in her labor rather quickly that by the time they arrived, she was already seven inches dilated.

Morrison paces back and forth in the hospital lobby as Nick and Linda rush to him followed by Barret and Sally.

“How is she?” asks Nick with concern etched in his face.

“She’s in there… I don’t know… I was there earlier but they suddenly kicked me out…” Morrison answers telling them that there was something wrong with the child’s umbilical cord that’s why they had to do an emergency C-section. Cornelia was a bit traditional with her pregnancy, not wanting to get an ultrasound to know the baby’s gender but made sure that she eats healthy and stays fit for the baby.

“Oh God! I don’t know what to do! Oh, please God, let them be okay!” he says outloud.

“Son, don’t worry, they will be fine. Rest a little while we wait,” urges Nick as Barret and Sally volunteered to get them some coffee.

They return shortly after as the doctor comes out of the delivery room. He has his doctor’s hat on and he just removed his gloves. He turns hi face to them and smiles the biggest smile they have ever seen.

“You are never going to believe this, Mr. McElroy,” he announced.

“Are they okay? Please tell me they’re all right!’ Morrison grabs the doctor by the arms and shakes him a little.

The doctor chuckles and nods his head, “Yes! They are healthy and fine. You can go in now.”

Morrison cautiously opens the door and sees Cornelia with a bundle in her arms. He fights back the tears that threaten to spill out but couldn’t.

“Oh, baby, you are the most beautiful woman in the world! I love you so much!” he exclaims as he inches forward. He peeks at the bundle of cloth in her arms and sees his infant son.

“He’s a he,” she says weakly. She looks tired but otherwise okay.

“Oh, what a beautiful little boy… I love you James Nicholas McElroy…,” he whispers as he takes the baby in his arms.

The nurse comes closer to them with another bundle of cloth in her arms and gives it to Morrison.

“Wh-what?” he asks looking unbelievable surprised at another baby that the nurse handed over to him.

He turns to Cornelia who gives him a wide smile.

“And she is a she,” she whispers with tears in her eyes. “Meet Julie Linda Wilson McElroy…”

Morrison beams with pride as he looks at both of his babies. He moves closer to Cornelia who wraps her arms around them. The fact that Cornelia named their daughter over both of their mothers’ names was the next best thing that happened that day. He could not ask for anything more in the world apart from the three people he has in his arms.

They were crying with happiness as Nick, Linda, Barret and Sally came inside the room to share the couple’s happiest day.

And whatever happened to them before, they did not let their pasts haunt them. Instead, they moved on and lived…

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