Eve took a step forward and pressed her hand to Simone’s cheek. Her daughter felt real, and she looked real, but the words coming out of her mouth...
“Simone, sweetie, tell me you didn’t say what I think you said.”
“I did, Mom.” Simone dropped her head. Teardrops splattered on the shiny tile floor. “I’m sorry. I should have said something sooner.”
Dylan rushed to Simone’s aid, with a clean handkerchief and a strong shoulder for her to cry. Eve sighed. How cruel was fate? Simone finally found a young man who seemed to genuinely care about her and now this.
Eve rubbed her temples, desperate to end the dull throbbing threatening to pound her head like the percussion section of high school band. How did she get transplanted to this an alternate universe? One where her new husband spent the night behind bars, her ex-husband fought for his life after an accident that could very well kill a young man that was probably her son, and her daughter confessed to the very crime that landed her husband in jail. God, how could all of this be happening at once?
The utterance of his name said everything she was feeling--fear, confusion, and worry. Even before Julian’s hand closed around her waist, she knew he would find a way to make everything all right.
“Don’t worry, Eve. I’ll take care of this.” He kissed her hand and walked the short distance to Simone. Julian held up his forefinger. “Don’t say another word,” he directed to her before turning his gaze to Dylan. “Leave.”
Dylan’s hand swept up and down Simone’s arm. “I want to stay here for her,” he answered.
“I can appreciate that, but her mother and I need to talk to her alone.”
“You and her mother were at each other’s throats last night. I hardly think either one of them wants to be alone with you.” Dylan looked over Julian’s shoulder to Eve. His eyebrow rose curiously. “Although, I’ll concede, it seems your wife isn’t as upset with you as she was.”
“Thanks for your observation, but nobody cares what you think. If you care about Simone, you will give us some time and keep Bennett away.” Julian motioned to the police chief whose gaze never once wavered. “That man is ready to pounce.”
Simone brushed her tears away and touched Dylan’s arm. “You go on. I’ll be fine,” she said.
“You sure?” Dylan asked.
She managed a smile and nodded.
He looked over at Sam. “Okay. If you need me I’ll be right over there.”
Julian grabbed Dylan’s shoulder as he made his leave. “I trust you will only keep Bennett occupied, and not divulge anything you just heard.”
Annoyance flashed in Dylan’s blue eyes, but Julian didn’t flinch. Eve understood the young man’s irritation. Considering how stalwart he’s been with Simone, it was obvious they were all on the same side. It seemed Julian couldn’t help being mistrustful of him.
Dylan shrugged off Julian’s hand. He appeared to want to say something, but Julian’s widened eyes and cocked eyebrows, a blatant ‘I dare you’ on his part, clearly gave the young man pause. Shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans, Dylan marched over to Sam without a word.
Once Sam and Dylan were a safe distance away, Simone turned her sad, watery eyes to Julian. “I know you’re upset with me, but you don’t have to take it out on Dylan. He’s done nothing wrong.”
“Simone, I really don’t give a damn about Dylan right now. I’m more concerned with you, and I’m not upset.”
Eve wrapped her arms around Simone’s shoulders. “We need you to tell us what happened,” she said, “and don’t leave anything out.”
“You know what happened. I almost killed Alistair.”
“How?” Julian prompted, a slight edge creeping into his voice.
Simone bristled. “See, he is upset,” she said, meeting Eve’s gaze.
“No, honey, he’s concerned about you and worried about Ethan and everyone else, that’s all. It’s a very trying time. Everybody is a little on edge,” she explained, rubbing Simone’s shoulder. “Right, Julian?”
He nodded. “She’s absolutely right, Simone. I apologize if I upset you.”
The tension stiffening her daughter’s body loosened the slightest degree. “Come on, tell us what happened,” Eve gently pressed.
“After I left the boat, I got a call from one of the maids at the mansion. She collected the things you left behind after the wedding and wanted to know if I could come over and pick them up. I said yes and when I got to the house she instructed me to wait in the library while she brought in your things. About a minute later, Alistair came in.”
Fire burned in Julian’s eyes. “Damn. That old bastard lured you there,” he said.
Simone nodded. “That became clear when the maid didn’t come back to the library. Julian, your father is so disgusting. He started saying all these awful things about you and Mom, and how if you thought your drug-induced sexscapades would end with a happy marriage you were probably still high.”
The words had the same effect on Eve as an unexpected backhand. Guilt twisted in her gut. She should have told Simone about her past with Julian before Alistair had a chance to put his spin on things. She intimated to some less than pleasing aspects to their relationship before the wedding, but her poor baby still had no idea Liz was even her aunt. Eve met Julian’s gaze. He looked as off-balance as she felt.
“Why are you guys so quiet?” Simone asked, moving to stand between Eve and Julian. “You don’t have to worry, I didn’t believe anything out of his lying mouth and I told him so.”
Eve tensed. This couldn’t go on any longer. “Simone, I…” she began.
Julian cleared his throat. “Thank you, Simone.” Julian made his way to Eve and slinked his arm around her waist. He pulled her close and whispered, “Not now.”
Eve didn’t particularly agree with him, but decided to follow his lead for now.
“Are you two alright?” Simone asked.
“We’re fine, Simone. It’s just that my father has a way of twisting things to suit his ends, but that’s a conversation for another time,” Julian explained. “What happened next?”
“He taunted me about Chad. Saying how I lucked out in not sleeping with my brother, but since Crane men seemed so attracted to Russell women, he was going to find out about the mystique for himself.”
Eve gasped. A shaky hand covered her mouth. She knew something was on Simone’s mind yesterday evening, but she had no idea it was anything like this. Tears burned her eyes. Julian’s arm tightened around her. “He didn’t…”
Simone cut off her words. “No, Mom,” she answered with a shake of her head. “But he tried.” A lone teardrop slid down Simone’s cheek. “He really tried.”
Eve didn’t bother to brush away her tears as she rushed to Simone and brought her into a hug. Simone clung to her for several moments before pulling away.
“It was awful, Mom. He pushed me on the desk, and he loosened the straps of my sundress. He was so heavy and so strong.” Eve felt Julian’s presence behind her even before his hands closed around her shoulders. She leaned against him and gave his hand a comforting squeeze. Listening to these words from her daughter had to be doubly hard for him, as it was his father who was the root to all of their pain. “I struggled and somehow—somehow I was able to reach a paperweight on the desk, and I crashed it to the side of his head. He fell to one side, I rolled him off and I ran.”
Julian approached Simone. “Wait-wait, you only hit Alistair once?” he asked.
“Yes. One time, really hard. He was bleeding and out like a light.”
“Simone, my dear, I’m so sorry this happened to you. Alistair is a cruel bastard.”
“He is that,” she agreed, “but what kind of person am I? I let you stay in jail overnight for something you didn’t do. I bashed Alistair’s head and left him for dead. If he dies, it’s my fault.”
“No, Simone, it’s not. You are not responsible for Alistair being here.”
“Julian’s right,” Eve echoed. “Alistair put himself in this position, and you were just…”
“My love, you’re right, but that’s not what I meant. She really didn’t put Alistair here.”
Simone’s face mirrored the confusion Eve felt. “Julian, didn’t you hear what I said?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes, I did, Simone. I heard you say you hit him once. Whoever put Alistair in this hospital hit him multiple times in the back of his head. That wasn’t you.” He pressed his hand to her cheek. “You did nothing but protect yourself. Don’t say another word to anyone else. I’ll take care of this, I promise.”
Tears spilled from Simone’s eyes. “You’re serious?” she said between sniffles. “I didn’t do this?”
“No, you didn’t. I don’t know who did, but Alistair certainly had it coming, and they cleaned up well, because there were no fingerprints left behind. I’m so sorry you had to go through this at all, Simone.” Julian took the handkerchief and wiped away her tears. “There really is no limit to this man’s evil. None at all.”
A sudden and unexpected chill shot down Eve back. Her body trembled. Goose bumps pimpled her skin. Why did she get the feeling even with Alistair incapacitated, the scope of his cruelty had barely scratched the surface?
The loud swoosh of double doors grabbed everyone’s attention. Two nurses in blue surgical scrubs hurried passed them pushing an incubator. The three hurried over as the others flocked around the two nurses.
“Is that my grandchild?” asked Rebecca, her high heels clacking against the floor as she hurried behind the nurses. “How is my Gwennie?”
“Mrs. Winthrop is still in surgery. The doctor will answer all you questions when he comes out, ma’am. We need to get the baby to NICU,” the nurse trailing the incubator answered.
“How is the baby? Is it a boy or girl?” Ivy questioned, peering around the nurses to get a peek at the squirming infant inside the clear glass carriage.
The nurse ahead of the incubator pushed the down button for the staff elevator. “It’s a little girl and she’s holding her own, but we really need to get going.”
“Oh, Sam, look, she has dark hair just like you.”
Eve managed to get around the cooing Ivy and reach the nurses before they stepped into the elevator. “Wait,” she said, placing her hand on the incubator and taking a look inside. Her heart swelled as Julian stood next to her and peeked down at the tiny little blessing. Her hands flew to her mouth. Tears filled her eyes. “She’s so beautiful.”
“Yes, she is,” Julian agreed, squeezing Eve’s shoulder. “So very beautiful.”
“Dr. Russ—Crane, we really should be going,” said the nurse in back of the incubator.
Eve nodded and moved aside. “Okay. Take good care of her.”
The nurse smiled. “You know we will,” she assured her, turning the incubator and pushing it inside the elevator.
The others made their way back to the double doors, hovering around in wait for more news. Julian took Eve’s hand and brought it to his lips. “How are you doing?”
Eve shrugged as she continued to stare at the elevator doors. “About as well as you are right now.”
“That good?” he quipped, with a half-hearted laugh.
“I’ve never felt such contradicting feelings in my life, Julian.” She buried her face into his chest. “ This has got to be the happiest and saddest day of my life.”
His arms closed around her. “I know, my love,” he said, stroking her hair. “ I know.”
The bell to the visitor’s elevator behind them chimed, and out stepped a tall man in a dark business suit.
“Julian?” Eve said, looking at the man.
“Mason!” Julian rushed over to him. He glanced at the file in his lawyer’s hand. “Is that it?”
“Yes,” Mason answered, extending the file. “I’m sorry it took so long for me to get here, but the traffic was horrible and I…”
Julian waved his hand, cutting the man off. “None of that matters,” he said, taking the file. “This is the proof, Eve.” He released a long, heavy breath. “But we already know the truth, don’t we?”
Eve nodded. “The truth is written all over the face of the beautiful
little girl. She’s our granddaughter, Julian. Ethan is our son.”