“She shot him.” I ran my hands through my hair, wishing I could scrape the image out of my mind as easily. “The undetermined manner of death—she killed him.”
Clancy sat quietly, letting me absorb that revelation. I wasn’t the only one who’d killed to protect Eva.
I began to pace. “The Tramells helped Lauren get away with it. They had to. Why?”
“During the time Lauren was with Jackson, she quietly documented anything and everything she could use against him later. The Tramells valued their reputation—and the reputation of their debutante daughter, Monica—and they just wanted Lauren, and all the problems she’d caused, gone. Lauren left with the clothes on her back and the understanding that, moving forward, Katherine’s care was entirely her responsibility.”
“So it was all for nothing,” I muttered. “She was right where she started.”
Then all the information clicked into place. “Katherine’s still alive.”
Which explained Monica’s marriages to wealthy men and her preoccupation with money. All these years, she had to know how shallow her daughter thought she was, but she’d lived with it, instead of telling the truth.
Of course, I’d hoped Eva would never learn what I had done to Nathan. I feared she would think I was a monster.
Clancy rose swiftly to his feet, despite his bulk. “And as I mentioned at the outset, Katherine’s care is now your financial responsibility. Whether you disclose any of this to Eva is something you’ll have to weigh.”
I studied him. “Why are you trusting me with this?”
He straightened his jacket. “I saw you throw yourself over Eva when Hall opened fire. That, along with how you dealt with Barker, tells me you’ll do anything to protect her. If you think it’s in her best interests to know, you’ll tell her when the time is right.”
With a brusque nod of his head, he left the room.
I lingered, gathering my thoughts.
Pivoting at the sound of Eva’s voice, I faced the doorway and watched her come toward me.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, looking starkly beautiful in a simple black dress. “I was looking all over for you. Clancy had to tell me where you were.”
“I had a drink,” I told her, giving her a partial truth.
“How many drinks?” The slight twinkle in her eye told me she wasn’t upset about it. “You’ve been in here awhile, ace. We have to take Dad to the airport.”
Startled, I glanced at my watch, realized I’d been lost in my own reflections for some time. It was an effort to come back to the present and stop mulling over Lauren’s tragic history. I couldn’t change the past.
But what I had to do was clear enough. I would see to her sister’s welfare. I would take care of her beloved daughter. In those ways, I would honor the woman Monica had been. And one day, if it seemed like the right thing to do, I’d introduce her to Eva.
“I love you,” I told my wife, taking her hand in mine.
“You okay?” she asked, knowing my moods so well.
“Yes.” I touched her cheek and gave her a soft smile. “Let’s go.”
“What an odd choice for a honeymoon hotel.”
I turn my head to find my mom stretched out on the lounger beside me on the deck. She’s wearing a purple bikini, her skin lightly tanned and firm, her nails painted an elegant nude.
Happiness fills me. I’m so glad to see her again.
“It’s a private joke,” I explain, taking in the view of the Pacific Ocean glittering beyond the emerald ribbon of forest in front of us. “I told Gideon I have a Tarzan fantasy, so he found us a luxury tree house.”
I’d been delighted when I first saw the hotel suite suspended high above the ground in the arms of an ancient banyan tree. The panoramic views from its deck are indescribably beautiful, something Gideon and I enjoy whenever we step outside our leafy bower.
“So you’re Jane …” My mother shakes her head. “I won’t even comment.”
I grin, glad I can still shock her speechless on occasion.
With a sigh, she leans her head back and closes her eyes, sunbathing. “I’m so glad your father has decided to move to New York. It gives me peace of mind to know he’ll be there for you.”
“Yeah, well … I’m getting used to the idea.”
It’s harder accepting that my mom was a completely different person than who I’d thought she was. I debate bringing all of that up. I don’t want to mar the joy of spending time with her again. But her journal entries were written as letters to me and I can’t help the need to respond.
“I’ve been reading your diaries,” I say.
Her answer is casual. I feel anger and frustration but push them away. “Why didn’t you share any of your past with me before?”
“I meant to.” Her head turns toward me. “When you were little, I planned to one day. Then Nathan … happened, and you were recovering from that. And you met Gideon. I always thought there would be time.”
I know that’s not completely true. Life continues. Something would always serve as an excuse to wait longer. My mom hadn’t held out for a time when I could accept all she’d done for the sake of her sister; she’d waited until she could.
It took a strong woman to make the choices and take the actions she had. It was good to know that about her, but more so to understand the source of her fragility. My mother had been a woman tormented by the path her life had taken. Killing Jackson had haunted her, because she’d hated him so desperately and felt joy when he was dead, even as she felt horror for the murder itself.
Leaving my father behind had destroyed a vital part of her, as had living as if her sister, Katherine, didn’t exist. My mother had been separated from two pieces of her heart yet somehow managed to go on. Her overprotectiveness made sense to me now—she could not have imagined surviving if she lost me, too.
“Gideon says we’ll go see Katherine when we get back,” I tell her. “We’re thinking about moving her closer, so she can be part of our lives.” I’m bracing myself for that, knowing my aunt is my mother’s twin.
My mom looks at me with a sad smile. “She’ll be happy to see you. She’s been hearing about you for years.”
“Really?” I know from the journals that my mom could rarely see Katherine in person, since my mom’s husbands preferred to keep their lovely wife close. She’d had to settle for mailed letters and cards, since e-mails and calls left a trail.
“Of course. I can’t help but brag. I’m so proud of you.”
Tears fill my eyes.
She tilts her face up to the sun. “For so long, I was angry at the damage that had been done to Kathy—I never got back the sister I knew. But then I realized her mind protected her from that one night of hell. She doesn’t remember it. And as simple as her thoughts are now, she finds a childlike joy in everything.”
“We’ll take care of her,” I promise.
My mom holds out her hand and I take it. “Do tree houses have champagne?” she asks.
I laugh and squeeze her fingers. “Sure.”
I woke slowly, drifting lazily upward from the depths of sleep into full awareness. Dappled sunlight filtered through the mosquito netting cocooning the bed. I stretched, my arm sliding over to search for my husband, but he wasn’t lying beside me.
Instead, I found Gideon standing at the window in the rustic nook he was using as an office, talking on the phone. For a moment, I just soaked up the sight of him. Disheveled and unshaven, he was so totally sexy I could hardly stand it. The fact that Lucky sprawled at his feet only added to the yumminess.
Gideon was wearing nothing but shorts, with the zipper tugged up and the button undone so I could see that he was commando. It was about as far as he got when it came to dressing on our honeymoon. Some days, the only thing he wore was sweat, which looked and smelled so damn hot on him I made sure he worked up more of it.
As for me, I’d been surprised to find my packing augmented with a lot of strapless tube dresses and a noticeable lack of underwear. At any moment, I could find myself bent over, my skirt flipped up, and some part of my husband’s anatomy sliding into me. We’d been on our honeymoon for two weeks and in that time, Gideon had trained my body to anticipate his lust. He could arouse me in moments, satisfy us both nearly as quickly.
It was deliciously, insatiably hedonistic.
In between bouts of crazed monkey sex, we’d spent time talking and making plans for when we returned to the world. We watched movies and played card games, with Gideon teaching me how to play well. He did occasionally have to work and when he did, I read the diaries my mother left behind for me. It had taken him a couple of days to tell me about them, but when he did, it was the right time.
We talked about those a lot, too.
“The demand is unreasonable,” Gideon said into his phone, eyeing me in my short silk robe. “There’s wiggle room elsewhere. They need to be redirected to those fluid points.”