Deafening quiet enveloped the room. Even the seagulls, that wailed as if in agony just minutes before, became muted. Eve curled her arm around Julian’s and rested her chin on his shoulder, her gaze locked firmly on Simone who sat across from them.
She attempted to read the plethora of emotions swirling on her daughter’s face like an abstract painter’s brush to a clean canvas. Surprise and stunned shock were obvious, the others were a little harder to detect. With the exception of a vicious temper, a trait she could thank her father for, that flared up whenever she felt crossed, Simone tended to keep her feelings to herself. A deep sigh rumbled in her throat. What was going on behind her daughter’s intense, dark eyes? How would she react to the news she just heard?
“You okay?” Julian questioned with a loving squeeze to Eve’s thigh.
She leaned into the warmth of his body, her attention still fixed on Simone. “I don’t know yet.”
Maybe meeting on the yacht wasn’t such a good idea. When Julian made the suggestion, she agreed wholeheartedly, believing the location would somehow make giving and receiving the news easier on everyone. She even picked out a sleeveless navy shirt and white cotton slacks for the occasion. Now, in the wake of sharing the truth surrounding Chad and her impending annulment to Julian, Eve wasn’t so sure.
In the light of day, the boat was even more impressive. The galley rivaled the kitchen in her house, and along with the dining area, took up nearly half of the left side of the room. The state-of-the-art entertainment and sound system, set up against the polished oak wood walls, demanded you take notice of its silver exterior and sleek design even when not engaged in its high-fidelity performance. And perched high above it all, in the center of the vast space, was a crystal chandelier, glistening with hundreds of dazzling drops and accented with gold fixtures. If the opulence of it all didn’t overwhelm Simone’s senses, surely the bountiful, vibrant, and fragrant displays of fresh-cut flowers would.
Another minute or two passed, but it felt like forever, as time seemed to crawl at a snail’s pace. The booming silence didn’t help matters, but Julian’s nearness and the intermittent sound of waves lapping against the boat had a somewhat calming effect—but only somewhat. She viewed the waves breaking the silent monotony as both a blessing and a curse. It served to end the quiet for a few fleeting moments, but doing so made the returning hush even more obvious.
Eve gnawed on her thumbnail. How much longer? Was Simone’s lack of anger a good thing? After a while, she had her fill of guessing. “Are you going to say something, sweetheart?” she finally asked.
Simone shrugged. “I uh—I don’t know what you want me to say.” Her gaze darted about the yacht as her fingers splayed against the cream-colored leather of the circular settee. “Julian asked me to meet him on the wharf and then he brings me to this floating mini mansion where I find you looking nowhere near as devastated or despondent as I thought you’d be after last night. And then you guys tell me Chad’s not your son.”
“And you’re sure?”
“Yes, Simone, we’re sure,” Julian confirmed. “I know this is confusing, but it’s the truth.”
Simone’s crinkled brows straightened and a wide smile brightened her face. Relief rained down on Eve, washing away her anxiety. Happiness. That was definitely a good sign.
“I’m glad things are okay between you two, I really am, but Chad!” Simone clasped her hands together. Her smile widened. “He’s not my brother. That is so incredible. It’s the best news.”
Eve closed her eyes. Distress threatened to overshadow her newly found peace. Her daughter was a little too happy. “Simone, I can see why you think this is great news, but as far as the world is concerned, Chad is your brother. It’s imperative you not lose sight of that, okay?”
“But, thankfully, he’s not my brother. He’s going to be blown away when he hears the news.”
“When he hears—” Eve sucked in a breath. “Simone, you can’t tell him
or anyone else about this.”
“Mom, I know you and Julian prefaced this whole confession with the condition I not share it with anyone, but don’t you think Chad deserves to know the truth?”
Dread set up housing in the pit of Eve’s stomach. Was it a mistake to tell Simone? Her eyes met with Julian’s where that very question stared back at her.
“What’s with the looks?” Simone asked. “Mom?”
“Sweetie, what we think Chad should know and what we can tell him are two different things.”
“Then why did you tell me? Huh? I didn’t even know you were pregnant before Whitney until yesterday. I’ve always felt like some unwanted guest in my own family, nobody ever tells me anything.”
“Oh, honey,” Eve lamented.
“C’mon, it’s the truth. Why is this time different?”
“Because you do matter and you deserved to know about this,” Julian answered, a hint of exasperation in his tone. “Candidly, our first instinct was to say nothing out of necessity for secrecy. Then, I got to thinking about the conversation we had yesterday, and how you always felt slighted, and it became clear that not telling you wasn’t a viable option. Before I got the chance to share my decision with your mother, she suggested it to me, and that’s why we’re here.”
“So, I was supposed to be kept in the dark. Humph! Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Eve shook her head. The edge in Simone’s voice threw her. “I don’t understand your attitude, sweetheart. Are you upset because we did tell you or because we weren’t going to but changed our minds?”
“Both. If I had to have a choice, I don’t know if I’d want to know about Chad, especially since I can’t tell him. But if I didn’t know before the rest of the world, I would probably still be unhappy, because once again I’d be left out of important family information.” Simone closed her eyes and massaged her temples. “All of this is so unexpected and complicated.”
“Yes, we know.”
“Do you, Mom? My feelings for Chad have never been a secret. To hear Alistair Crane say he was my brother was the worst kind of shock. And you two weren’t refuting his claim last night. Now, I learn he’s not my brother, and Whitney is back in L.A. The playing field is clear. I have the chance to be with him without interference from my man-stealing sister, and I’m not expected to say anything?” Simone’s voice shook. Her eyes filled with tears. “It’s like I’ve been given the keys to a shiny red convertible and told I can’t drive it. This is just not fair!”
Simone raced to the overlook landing on the right side of the room. Her body shook with sobs.
A pang of guilt stabbed at Eve’s heart. She knew Simone would be upset, but she wasn’t expecting this. How could she make this right? “Honey, I—” she began, standing from the loveseat.
Julian stopped her and her words with a pat to her knee. “Let me try.”
She consented with a nod. He brushed a kiss to her cheek and made his way to Simone.
Eve looked on in amazement. She couldn’t get over Julian’s eagerness to be close with her girls. Considering the fact he hadn’t seen his own daughters in years, his less than ideal relationship with Fox, and the heartbreaking way he disowned Ethan, his willingness and desire to be paternal with her children left her in awe. Maybe, someday, he’ll show this caring father side to his own children. They would all be so much the better for it.
Julian reached into his pocked and produced a handkerchief. He held it over Simone’s shoulder. “This is starting to become a habit, yes?”
Simone accepted the handkerchief and turned to him. “I don’t want a lecture,” she said, drying the glistening tears from her face.
“No lectures, I promise. I only have a question.”
Simone sniffled. “What?”
“What do you think will happen if you tell Chad the truth?”
“What will happen?”
“Yes. Do you think he’ll suddenly realize it’s been you all the time and rush into your arms, or do you think he’ll move heaven and earth to find Whitney so he can be with her? I’m leaning more toward the latter.”
“So, you’re saying it’s impossible for Chad to love me even with Whitney on the other side of the country? Gee, thanks a lot, Julian.” Simone thrust the handkerchief into his chest and barreled toward the door.
Well, that could have gone better, Eve mused.
Julian followed Simone in close pursuit. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t meant as a blight against you.”
Simone’s back stiffened. She turned with a jerk. “Right!”
“I just want you to see things clearly. Chad loves Whitney, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.”
“Maybe not, but from what I saw last night, Whitney’s interest could lie elsewhere, or was I the only one who noticed Fox seemed a little overly concerned about her.” Simone crossed her arms and stuck out her chin. “Besides, you and Mom just want me to stay quiet.”
Eve rolled her eyes. Simone was acting like a bratty five-year-old. She had to understand this was about more than just Chad, and that a wonderful life with him was not in the cards. Eve made her way over to them and touched Julian’s shoulder in a show of solidarity.
“You’re right, we do,” Julian said, “but we could have accomplished that by not telling you at all. More than anything, we don’t want you to be hurt. You need to let go of this happily ever after fantasy with Chad, because it’s not going to happen.”
“Julian’s right, Simone. No, we can’t tell how things will end between Chad and Whitney, but there is no future for you with him. You have to accept that.” Simone’s head dropped. Perhaps the truth had finally set in. Eve took a step forward, and lifted her daughter’s downcast chin. “You’re a beautiful, wonderful young woman, and somewhere out there is a young man who’ll appreciate you for the incredible person you are. You have to believe that.”
“Yes,” Julian agreed. “And a lucky young man he will be.”
“Lucky, huh?” said Simone.
“Indeed.” Julian smiled.
“So long as he’s not Dylan Crestfield, right?”
“Crestfield? Is that his name?”
Eve listened on in confusion. “Who is Dylan Crestfield?” she asked.
“Bad news,” Julian answered, frowning.
“He’s a friend of Fox’s who has been very nice to me.” Annoyance flashed in Simone’s eyes. “You were very rude to him out on the wharf, Julian.”
“I’ve seen his type before. I couldn’t figure it out earlier, but it was something about that kid that made me uneasy, and now I know what it is.”
“You mean aside from him being Fox’s friend?”
“He’s a rogue, Simone.”
“He’s a rich guy who’s a bit of a flirt, but he’s harmless.”
Eve felt like a spectator at a tennis match with no clue who she wanted to win match point. Was Simone right and this Dylan was getting the short end of the stick because he was a friend of Fox’s, or was Julian just looking out for her best interest in keeping away a young man he thought was out to take advantage of her vulnerability?
“Do you know who is uncle is?” Julian asked, smugness glinting in his hazel orbs like diamonds. Whatever he was about to say, he seemed certain it would end this conversation and get Simone to see things his way. Eve wondered if he was right.
“Yes, I do,” Simone answered. “Jonathan Hotchkiss. So?”
“Shouldn’t that tell you something?”
“What should it tell me? Mr. Hotchkiss isn’t a bad guy. He’s divorced from Rebecca and she was the questionable one, not to mention a woman, that up until yesterday, the world thought would be the next Mrs. Julian Crane. Besides, your father is Alistair. Should I hold all this against you?”
Dots of red speckled Julian’s cheeks. Eve suppressed the urge to smile. The ‘trumper’ had been trumped.
“That’s different,” Julian countered, jamming his hands in his pants pockets.
“On that we can totally agree,” Simone retorted. “I think it’s time for me to go.”
Eve moved around her perturbed husband and caught up with Simone before she could get too far. “So, you like this Dylan?”
“Like?” Simone shrugged. “I don’t know, Mom. He’s interesting, and he’s been really nice to me after all of this.”
“I’m only suggesting you be careful with him,” Julian asserted. “That’s all.”
Simone continued to the door. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Before you leave…” Eve began.
Simone turned around. Her shoulders slumped. “What is it, Mom?”
“Do you think you can tell us where you leaning in regard to talking
to Chad? Are you going to tell him the truth?”
|Chapter 27, Part 2