Release Date: June 22, 2019
Richard and Charles won the majority of the Colorado oil leases, infuriating local wildcatter Gerritt Fallmont. Charles grew concerned when Richard told him that Daphne, a reporter, had been asking questions about their Malta deal. Jonas reassured Nathan that his newest film, a comedy titled Letter to God, will be a hit. Jonas learned Tariq Ahmed was arrested for blowing up his private jet. Daphne questioned Royce about 21 Black and the fact that it deposited funds into Konrad Van Wyk's bank account. Royce claimed to not know who owns the company. Lola grew curious when Ladys reacted with hostility when she suggested Jonas help with the Ocean Conservation Fund gala. Alicia met Troy and the two immediately aggravated one another. Later, Troy watched from his bedroom window as Alicia and Jordan kiss in the stables. Ann called Damon and asked him to meet her for lunch. Jonas told Royce that he plans on doing whatever possible to get him out of Jackie's life. Jackie rejected Royce's sexual advances, prompting him to grow frustrated with their marriage. Richard showed up at Daphne's apartment but she rejected him. Royce blasted Jackie for lying about calling to check on David, then insisted that they return to New York so she could see her psychiatrist. Jonas told Vaughan that he's in love with Lola. Vaughan reminded him that Lola is still upset about what happened to her sister, Lana. Joy overheard the conversation.
When Jonas Lamont was 17 years old, he and his brothers, Paul and Andrew, bought some old camera and lighting equipment and rented an abandoned theater that they transformed into a sound stage, and Lamont 3 Studios was born. Their first feature film was a monster movie called It Walked From The Waves, and they made it for twelve thousand dollars. It was a hit, and audiences wanted more. Over the next ten years, they released dozens more. It wasn’t until the end of the silent film era in 1927 that they realized just what they’d stumbled upon. Success. So much so that greed took over and both brothers attempted to embezzle money from the company. Now almost fifty years later, Jonas was one of the most successful film producers in the world. Lamont 3 Studios, with twenty sound stages, a vast backlot, and plenty of office space, had become a far cry from its origins.
The history of the studio was laid out on the walls of Jonas’s expansive office through movie one-sheets, photographs of stars, and shelves boasting awards from every category. He found himself gazing across the room counting his successes. An impromptu visit from Lola that particular morning pulled his attention toward her, not that he was complaining.
“I’m thrilled that you’re going to help us with the Ocean Conservation Fund gala,” Lola was saying, legs crossed in a chair across the desk from him. “It’s such an important cause, you know. The more starpower behind it the better.”
“I’ll make sure everyone’s there, don’t you worry your pretty little head, Cookie,” Jonas said to her. “Nathan, Victor, Elana, everyone. And they’ll all bring their checkbooks. And you know what? Lamont 3 will match every dollar you raise.”
Lola raised an eyebrow. “That’s very generous.”
“Well, if it’s important to you, then it’s important to me.”
“By the way,” Lola began, pulling her Cartier cigarette case from her purse. “Do you know a woman named Ladys Castro?”
Jonas repeated the name to himself a few times and then shook his head. “Doesn’t sound familiar. Why?”
“Well, she’s the one heading up the gala. She had a strange reaction when I mentioned that you were going to be attending. Forgive me, but I don’t think she likes you very much, Jonas.”
“Odd,” he said with a frown. “Now that you mention it, the name does sound familiar.” He turned to the credenza behind him and picked up a stack of newspapers from the past week. He always kept the society pages. They were often a good tool for uncovering who had money to invest in a film. He found an article about the ocean gala containing a photograph of Ladys. “This woman right here?”
“Yes, that’s her. Have you ever met her?”
Jonas shook his head. “I’m sure I haven’t. But the article says she was married to Peter Langdon of Langdon Industries. I do recall running into him on a few occasions.”
“Maybe whatever grudge she’s holding has to do with him,” Lola suggested.
“That’s got to be it. You know better than anybody that I’ve made my share of mistakes when it comes to business deals. Well, if it makes her feel better, I’ll steer clear of her at the gala.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Lola said and searched her purse for a lighter. In a flash, Jonas was out from behind his desk lighting it for her. “Thank you. Now, I’m afraid I have another favor to ask you.”
“Anything,” he said, perched on the edge of his desk.
“It’s about Troy. He’s dropped out of Oxford and has it in his head that he wants to learn about filmmaking. Now, I tried to talk him out of it, but he’s insistent. I know it’s a lot to ask, but do you think you could find the time to help him?”
Jonas smiled. “I’d be happy to. You know, I’m kind of surprised, and a bit flattered. I always thought Troy would follow in Topper’s footsteps and get into finance. How does he feel about this?”
“He’s all for it,” Lola told him. “I was the one who was skeptical at first.”
“Well, because, I mean, Jonas, you know what it was like for me. Lamont 3 was my entire life. You of all people know what it cost me.”
“Yes, but Cookie, you were in front of the camera. That’s a completely different animal.”
She shrugged and rose from the chair. “I suppose. Well, I have to run.”
“Why don’t you stay and I’ll order in some breakfast?” Jonas asked.
“Oh, I can’t,” she said, draping a silk pashmina over one shoulder.
“Sure you can,” he said with a glimmer in his eye. “I enjoy spending time with you.”
Lola regarded him carefully. “Jonas Lamont, you are a married man, and I have a ton of errands to do.” She quickly made her way to the door, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke behind her. “I’ll see you at the gala.”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll see each other before then,” he said, following her closely.
“Well, just in case we don’t,” Lola said with a shrug. She put on her large tinted sunglasses and blew him an air kiss. “Ta-Ta.”
“Goodbye,” Jonas said, smiling as he watched her go. After he closed the door, he breathed a heavy sigh. Yes, he was more sure than ever that they belonged together. One way or another he would make her see that.
Joy hadn’t been able to think of anything else since she overheard her husband professing his love for another woman. How could this be happening? They hadn’t even been married for a year. Not long before that, she’d been perfectly happy in her relationship with Deacon Edgewater. But she met Jonas at a party one night and he became immediately smitten with her. After weeks of courting her with flowers, candy and promises of lifelong happiness, she fell in love with him and left Deacon. Following a brief, whirlwind engagement, they were married on the back lawn of the estate. She finally had everything she’d ever wanted.
Now, nine months later, she was facing the possibility that all those promises were nothing but talk, and that she was being replaced with another woman. Yes, Lola Marlowe was beautiful, worldly, loaded with class, and had one of the most recognizable faces in the world, but what she and Jonas had was special. She wasn’t going to let that go without a fight. If she learned one thing from her opportunistic mother, it was how to keep a man happy. But just in case, she needed some insurance.
She went to the library and asked for all of the articles that mentioned Lana Marlowe. She’d overheard Jonas and Vaughan talking about her, and they’d mentioned an accident, and something that Lola blamed Jonas for. Whatever it was sounded very ominous, so she did some sleuthing.
To her surprise, only three items popped up on the microfilm. The first was Lana’s birth certificate, prompting Joy to realize Lola and Lana were twins—born just minutes apart. The second was Lana’s obituary, printed in the Los Angeles Times, and naming Lola as her only living relative. The third was her death certificate. It appeared Lana had died three years ago from a spinal injury. No other records about the woman existed. It was almost as if she hadn’t lived at all. She theorized that Lola had probably upstaged her their entire lives and that’s why Lana appeared to be so insignificant compared to her sister. At least on paper.
Joy decided she’d have to do more investigating to find out what the big secret was. One thing was for certain, she wasn’t going to give up on her marriage yet.
New York City
"I’m a terrible mother,” Jackie said to her shrink, her face buried in her hands.
“You’re not. We’ve talked about this. Postpartum depression is a complication of—”
“A complication of childbirth, I know,” she said in exasperation, standing from her seat and pacing the man’s office as tears flooded her eyes. “That doesn’t make it any easier, Dr. Dunne. Look at me. I’m lying to my husband, we haven’t made love in months, I can’t even hold my son without wanting to cry my eyes out!”
“We’re working on that, Jackie. I told you it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take time.”
“Yeah, well I don’t have time!” she insisted. “My husband is furious with me. He hasn’t said a word to me since we left Los Angeles. I looked into David’s eyes this morning and it was like he was looking at a stranger!”
“Look, you have to trust me. I understand how difficult the past few days have been, but getting yourself worked up is only going to—”
Finally, Jackie broke. “My life is falling apart!” she screamed through a deluge of tears. “I came here to...I just...GOD, I THOUGHT YOU’D HELP ME!”
Dr. Dunne got up from his chair and went to comfort her. “I’m going to help you,” he said, leading her to a sofa across the room. “I am.”
Jackie sobbed, sinking into the sofa. “I just can’t go on this way. My marriage won’t last. I won’t last.”
“I’m going to give you something to help you relax and then I’m going to call your husband,” Dr. Dunne told her as he walked across the room to his desk.
“No, please,” Jackie said. “Don’t call Royce. He already hates me enough as it is. If he finds out I’m this much of a basket case it’ll just make him hate me even more.”
“Okay, but you’re not leaving this office until you’ve calmed down.” He unlocked a cabinet in his desk and removed a bottle of valium, handing her one with a glass of water. “Here, take this and lie down. I’ll come in after a while and check on you.”
She swallowed the pill and sipped the cool water. “Thank you, Dr. Dunne,” she said and laid down on the sofa. “Thank you for everything.”
Walking to the door, the doctor turned off the lights and went out to the reception area. “Mrs. Jennings is resting,” he said to his secretary. “Would you please call her husband? Let me know when you have him on the line.”
“Yes, Dr. Dunne,” the secretary said.
Jennings Holdings occupied two floors of a skyscraper in lower Manhattan. Royce’s suite of offices included an anteroom, private bathroom, and separate living quarters for nights when he worked late and didn’t want to battle the traffic to the upper east side.
Standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the manhattan skyline, Royce held the phone to his ear while downing a scotch with his free hand. “Konrad Van Wyk, please,” he said and then waited for the energy minister of Malta to come on the line. “Konrad, it’s Jennings. Listen, I’m going to be in Malta the day after tomorrow. Do you have time to meet? No, there’s no problem. Just want to touch base is all. I’ll call when you I land.”
He hung up and finished his drink. Ever since that reporter, Daphne Dussault, paid him a visit in L.A., and then Jonas’s pointed threat to expose him of business misdeeds, he’d been rife with anxiety. A lot was riding on the power station—not just for him but for Charles and Richard too. He couldn’t afford anything messing it up. He’d feel better if he touched base with Konrad and checked in on the construction.
His secretary buzzed his office and announced a call. “There’s a Dr. Dunne on the phone for you, Mr. Jennings,” she said. “He says it’s about your wife.”
Royce frowned. “Thanks, Charlee,” he said and picked up the phone. “Royce Jennings.”
“I’ve always been in touch with my musical side, I guess. I don’t know where it comes from. My mother wasn’t musical, but I think maybe my grandmother was. I took piano lessons when I was a girl, too. My own daughter has no interest in singing or playing an instrument. Maybe it skips a generation or something. I love listening to jazz, classical, anything really. Ella Fitzgerald, Gershwin, Cole Porter. They’re all great. Did you see Barbra Steisand in The Way We Were? It was magical.”
“Do you want to be an actress too?” Damon asked with a gleam in his eye.
Ann laughed and shook her head. “No, I’ve never had any inclination to act. Singing, though, I used to love. I still do, I guess. I just...I don’t know.”
They were at a table at Chateau Marmont. Ann ordered the Crab Louie and Damon a well done porterhouse. He was almost finished with his but she’d barely eaten two bites. She felt like she hadn’t stopped talking since they sat down.
“Wow,” Damon said, smiling as he shook his head in amazement.
“It’s just that I can’t remember the last time I met anyone who got as excited as you do when they’re talking about music,” he told her. “I think this is something you were born to do, Ann.”
She laughed in an attempt to hide her embarrassment. “I don’t know about that,” she said and took a sip of her chardonnay.
“I do,” he insisted. “I knew it the day I first heard you sing in Las Vegas. I kicked myself so many times for not approaching you back then. And when I saw you here the other day, I guess I was a little taken aback. I actually asked my sound guy to find out who you were. But as luck would have it, you contacted me. I was glad.”
“Me too,” Ann said. “I feel kind of strange. I didn’t tell my husband that I was meeting you today. He doesn’t even know that I sing. I mean, not really. He heard me once at the club in Vegas but I don’t think he thought I was serious.”
“Ann, you can’t keep this thing to yourself,” Damon said emphatically. “You are too talented. Listen, do you believe in fate?”
Ann shrugged. “Not really.”
“I do, and I think it was fate that brought us together. It didn’t happen a few years ago but listen, the time is right.”
“To make you a star,” he said.
Laughing, Ann took her napkin from her lap and placed it on the table. “Don’t you think you might be going a bit overboard?”
“No, I don’t. I know talent when I hear it, and baby, you’ve got it. I say we start right away. Nightclub engagements in L.A., Vegas, New York. We should get you into the studio this week. You can meet my engineer, T.T I want to lay some tracks down as soon as we can.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Ann said. “This is going way too fast, Damon. I just wanted to talk about some possibilities. Nightclub engagements? Laying down tracks? Slow down. I don’t even know if I can still sing that well.”
“No time like the present. Let me move some things around. We can at least have you in the studio tomorrow. No pressure. We’ll pick out some stuff you like and see what happens.”
Ann bit down on one of her French tips and gave a giddy smile. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. Don’t worry. I’ll be there with you.” He raised his glass. “A toast to your new career, Ann Merteuil. You’re gonna knock their socks off, lady.”
Ann shivered with excitement, clinking her glass against his and smiling uncontrollably.
Madleen was relieved when Ladys told her she was sticking around L.A. for a few more weeks—at least until after the Ocean Conservation Fund gala. There were times when she needed her best friend, and this was one of them.
They planned to meet for lunch at Chateau Marmont. Madleen arrived first, gave her car keys to the valet, and waited outside by the main entrance of the hotel. She grew uncomfortable when two of the valet attendants kept looking at her and whispering. By now she’d grown accustomed to people recognizing her, but sometimes she wasn’t in the mood for conversation with her fans. When one of them finally approached, she held up a hand and smiled politely.
“If you don’t mind, I’m just waiting for my friend,” she began.
“I’m sorry, but...weren’t you married to Oliver Leon?”
Madleen looked away just as Ladys roared up in a bright red Italian sports car. Thank god she got there when she did. She didn’t know how much more of this she could take.
“Excuse me,” Madleen said to the young man.
“You were,” he said, all smiles. “Wow. I mean, that’s really far out. How cool was it to be married to the greatest rock legend that ever lived? What was he like at home? Is it true they found him on the toilet when he O.D.’d?”
Madleen was almost brought to tears and she didn’t even know why. “Ladys!” she called to her friend, waving a hand in the air. “Excuse me,” she said to the valet.
“Hello, my dear,” Ladys said and gave Madleen a kiss on each cheek. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, hurrying the other woman into the hotel. Once they were in, she took a deep breath and tried to compose herself. “I’m glad you’re here. I really need some girl time.”
Ladys smiled, took Madleen’s hand and patted it softly. “Then let’s get going,” she said and led her to the restaurant.
As the hostess approached, Madleen’s gaze landed on a table across the room where Damon was dining with an attractive black woman. Her eyes immediately filled with tears.
“Ay caramba,” Ladys said once she saw what her friend was looking at. “My dear, it doesn’t mean anything.”
But Madleen wasn’t so sure. And when Damon and the woman toasted with their glasses, she got an unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach. “I have to go,” she said, turned and darted out of the restaurant.
Ladys smiled apologetically at the hostess, turned, and ran after Madleen.
On a rare occasion, Richard Wells would forgo a trip downtown to the Wells, Inc. headquarters and attempt to work from his spacious home in Brentwood. That morning, he brought a stack of files with him outside to the pool and set himself up in a lounge chair under the hazy sun. He wore tan Gucci swim trunks that were a tad too tight in the crotch, and a yellow velour top unbuttoned to reveal his suntanned chest and the faint trail of light brown hair beneath his naval. A radio sat beside him emitting light rock music as he peered over large brown aviator sunglasses at his paperwork.
“So this is what the world of high finance is like,” said a woman’s voice from behind. “Sitting at home by the pool in the middle of the week? You’re not nearly the corporate shark I thought you were, Mr. Wells.”
He turned and saw Daphne Dussault coming out from the back door of the house. With a smile, he rose to his feet and began approaching her. “The perks of being your own boss.”
Daphne smiled coquettishly. “Well, unless you count the Wells, Inc. board of directors. But then again, I’m sure they know every move you make.” A deliberate pause. “Or do they?”
“Just the boring stuff,” Richard told her with a wink. He gestured to a table shielded by a large yellow and white striped umbrella. “Can I offer you some iced tea?”
Before she could reply, he was lifting the glass pitcher and pouring two glasses. “Do you ever give a straight answer?” she asked, taking the glass from him. “Or is it always just about the shock factor with you?”
Richard sat down beneath the umbrella and gestured to the chair across from him. “What do you think?”
Daphne remained standing. “I think you get a thrill out of testing other people—particularly women—by saying disarming things to them. I think you use it to hide behind because you’re really much more insecure than you let on. You project this suave, ladies man image, whereas deep down you actually care about people and what they think of you, but too afraid to let that part of you out.”
Richard peered at her over the top of his sunglasses. “You’re a very astute woman, Miss Dussault.”
“I’m a journalist,” she said. “I have to be. And it’s Daphne.”
“Finally on a first name basis,” Richard replied with a grin. “It’s about time. So tell me, Daphne, you still haven’t told me what brought you by this morning. Not that you need a reason, mind you, but I can’t help but be curious.”
“I was actually hoping you could tell me where Royce Jennings is. My sources tell me his private jet took off early yesterday morning.”
Richard shrugged. “I don’t know. Is this about 17 Black again or do I have a reason to be jealous?”
“21 Black,” she corrected him. “And forgive me, but I find it implausible that neither you, Charles Merteuil, or Royce Jennings know anything about this company that just so happens to have paid large sums of money to Konrad Van Wyk, the man who authorized you to build that power station. I think one of you is hiding something.”
Richard stood up. “Have you found any further proof to validate your claims?”
“No,” she said.
“So your story is dead in the water?” He took a few steps toward her.
“No,” Daphne said. “Of course not. A good reporter goes until she gets the story, and believe me, that’s what I’m going to do.”
“Well, in the meantime, what would be the harm in joining me for dinner this evening?” He removed his sunglasses to reveal dark brown eyes that bore steadfastly into hers. “Since you’re obviously in a holding pattern with your story, I mean.”
She frowned. “Richard, if I went to dinner with you, I would spend the entire evening trying to extract information from you for my story.”
“I’m fine with that,” he said. He could sense her gaze traveling down to the hair on his chest and to his nipples that hardened when his open shirt grazed against them. As he drew closer, he could smell the floral perfume she always wore. It was intoxicating. “A little dinner, a nice wine, maybe a warm fire.”
“Don’t you think it’s hot enough already?” Daphne asked.
“It could get hotter,” he said, looked into her eyes, and then pressed his lips against hers. She didn’t resist, and when she began massaging his tongue with hers, he knew she was as into him as he was her. Instantly, he got an erection, sure that she could feel it against her body. Then all too soon, the kiss was over.
“I think you need to cool off,” Daphne said and pushed him with one swift movement.
Before Richard could stop himself, he plunged into the pool, water splashing up onto the cement.
Daphne backed up to avoid the spray. “Don’t try that again,” she said with a smile.
Richard swept his wet hair from his eyes. “Are you saying you didn’t like it?”
She didn’t respond, instead turned and started to the side gate. “I’ll be here tonight at eight. I take my steak medium rare.”
Grinning as he watched her leave, Richard glided across the water and pulled himself up on the ladder.
New York City
When Royce arrived at Dr. Dunne’s office, he was fit to be tied. All the man had said to him on the phone was that he was concerned about Jackie and that he needed to see him immediately. During the harried cab ride through Manhattan, he imagined every horrible scenario there was, including one particularly awful thought that Jackie had actually done something to physically hurt their son.
“Where is my wife?” Royce demanded as he stood in the anteroom with the doctor and his secretary. “What happened?
“Let’s talk in the hallway,” the doctor said and guided Royce through the doorway into the hallway outside of his office. “The first thing I need to tell you, Mr. Jennings, is that your wife doesn’t know you’re here. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even want me to call you.”
Dr. Dunne dug his hands into his pockets. “She knows that you’ve been upset with her, and in our session today, she had what I would classify as a breakdown. She’s in my office resting right now. I gave her something to help her relax. Mr. Jennings, your wife is struggling with her roles, not only as a mother but as a wife. She feels she’s failed on all accounts.”
Royce ran a hand over his face. “I was hard on her before we left Los Angeles. She lied to me about checking in on David. I guess I lost my temper.”
“You have questions about what’s going on with her. I get that. You want to protect your son, and what you see is Jacqueline turning away from him. Mr. Jennings, I want to talk to you about Nathan Blackthorne.”
What about Blackthorne?” Royce asked, his brow furrowed.
“Well, Jacquline told me that their marriage broke up because he didn’t want to have children.”
“I guess partly.”
“I feel like her unresolved feelings about that marriage and why it ended has a lot to do with her postpartum depression,” said the doctor. “ It could also have something to do with whatever struggles you and her and facing.”
Royce shrugged. “Of course I want to help her. What can I do?”
“For now just be patient with her. Know that none of this is her fault. I’m going to continue working with her, and eventually I’d like you to come to one of our sessions. I think it’s important that we try to connect the lines from what happened in Jackie’s marriage to Nathan, and to David’s birth and her marriage to you.”
“Okay,” Royce said, running his fingers through his hair. He hadn’t realized that Jackie’s depression could be so complicated or that it had so many far-reaching tentacles. In all honesty, he thought they’d prescribe her something and that she’d get over it. Now he realized it was not going to be that easy.
Jonas hadn’t seen Deacon Edgewater since the night his security guard shot him, so he was very surprised when his rival showed up at his office that afternoon.
“What the devil are you doing here?” Jonas bellowed, rising from his desk and preparing to let his secretary have it for letting the man in. Didn’t she know that Deacon Edgewater was not above stealing to get ahead in the industry? Quickly, he scanned the room to make sure there was nothing laying around that could give the other man a leg up.
“I come to see how you’re doing and that’s the way you greet me?” Deacon asked. “I see you’ve made a full recovery. Back at work already.”
“Disappointed?” Jonas mused. “I know you probably hoped your hired henchman would have taken me out for good so you could sweep in and take over Lamont 3.”
“Like some buzzard feeding off of a decaying corpse? What would be the fun in that? I prefer a challenge. Not that you’ve ever been much of one.”
“You mean except for stealing Joy from you?” Jonas asked with a self-serving grin. “You underestimate me, Deacon. That’s a big mistake.”
Now it was Deacons’ turn to smile. “I could get Joy back any time I wanted. Only I wouldn’t do it as dirty as you did. I wouldn’t do it behind your back. I’d take her back with you watching the whole time, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing you could do about it.”
His words enraged Jonas. The thought of losing anything to Deacon Edgewater was enough to make his blood boil. Despite his desire to have Lola in his bed and at his side, he couldn’t bare the thought of Joy with his biggest rival.
“Get the hell out of my office, Edgewater.”
“That’s got you scared, doesn’t it?” Deacon asked. “Losing the only thing you have left besides this precious studio.”
“What the hell are you talking about, anyway?”
“Look around. Besides Joy, who is there? Jackie’s gone—Royce took her away from you. When’s the last time you saw your grandson? You must be terrified of losing the one person who’s stuck by your side.”
“All right, get the hell out,” Jonas said, all serious. “If you ever come back here uninvited I’ll have you arrested for trespassing.”
Deacon chuckled as he made his way to the door. “I’ll be seeing you,” he said. “Oh, and congratulations on your speedy recovery. Let’s hope whoever tried to kill you in Iraq doesn’t make a habit out of it. Like I said, I need you alive so I can watch you squirm when I take everything from you.”
After he left, Jonas slammed the door closed, his face red with anger and deep hatred. He despised that he let the man get to him. First about Joy and then about Jackie. What the hell did he know, anyway? But the truth was, he did blame Royce for keeping his daughter and grandson away from him. He knew it must have been Royce’s idea for them to go back to New York in such a hurry. It only fueled his urge to get rid of his son-in-law once and for all.
Returning to his desk, he lit a fat brown Cubar cigar and called Vaughan. “I need you to find a P.I. to find something on Royce,” he said. “Something, anything I can use to take him down. Yes, the sooner the better.”
“I don’t understand what it is you need from me, Miss Dussault,” Charles Merteuil said from behind his desk at Merteil Industries. “You’ve already spoken to both of my business partners. Obviously you’re looking for some type of scandal, but there just isn’t one. Now if you’ll excuse me—”
Daphne remained seated. “Before I go, Mr. Merteuil, your company made a rather large contribution to Malta’s disaster relief fund recently, isn’t that correct?”
“Yes. Your point?” nl
She shrugged, her legs crossed in the chair across from him. “Just that’s it’s interesting, that’s all. Some might take that size of a donation as a bribe or kickback considering all the money your company is poised to make.”
“The donation came after we were given permission to build the power station,” Charles told her. “If you’d done your homework, Miss Dussault, you would have known that. You would have also known that the island of Malta suffers from extreme high winds throughout most of its summer months, and their disaster relief fund would only benefit the crews working on the power station. If I’m guilty of anything it’s that my donation was somewhat self-serving. Now again, I’m very busy, so if you don’t mind.” This time, he stood up and motioned to the door.
Daphne rose to her feet and tucked her purse under her arm. “All right, but just so you know, I’m investigating Merteuil Industries with as much interest—if not more so—than I am your business partners. It is your company’s technology behind the power station, after all. The way I see it is you have just as much to gain by hiding behind 21 Black in order to ensure the station goes through.”
“Good day, Miss Dussault,” Charles said, all business.
Daphne turned and left the office, Charles’ secretary meeting her at the door to ensure she left without incident and to announce another visitor. “Mr. Merteuil, your wife is here to see you.”
“Thank you, Connie,” he said and walked around his desk to greet Ann as she entered in a green sleeveless jumpsuit. “Well, this is a surprise,” he said and kissed her. “Don’t you look beautiful. What brings you down here in the middle of the day?”
Ann was beaming, still riding high after her lunch with Damon. “Oh Charles! I got some exciting news today and I couldn’t wait to tell you about it!”
Charles led her to the sofa in the corner and sat down beside her. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”
“I had lunch with a man today-” she began.
Charles raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What man? And do I need to be jealous?”
Ann shook her head. “No, it’s not like that. We met the other day when we were having breakfast at Chateau Marmont. His name is Kool Lusby. Well, that’s his professional name. His real name is Damon. Damon Lusby. Anyway, he owns Titan Records. He heard me singing at the Sierra Room a few years ago and he thought I was good. I mean he really thought I was good. He wants to help me get back into singing.”
“Wait a minute,” Charles said with a chuckle. “Slow down, baby. You’re going a hundred miles an hour. How is this man going to help you?”
“Recording, performing, who knows!” Ann gushed. “Maybe a record deal. I don’t know. But isn’t it exciting? He remembered me, Charles. Do you know what it’s like to make that kind of impression on someone?”
Charles nodded. “Yes, I do. I remember you making that kind of impression on me the first time I met you. I couldn’t get your out of my mind so I used every excuse I could think of to sway you into going out with me. It sounds like this Damon character has the same thing in mind.”
Ann recoiled with a frown. “What?” she asked, shaking her head. “No, it’s not like that.”
“You’re a beautiful woman, Ann, and very trusting, and I’m afraid this man has got it in his head that he’s going to take advantage of that. What did he say when you told him you were married?”
“Nothing,” Ann said defensively. “Nothing, because it wasn’t even an issue.”
“Not yet,” Charles said. “Look, what do you know about this man?”
Ann stood up, her eyes stinging with tears. “I know that he’s a very famous record producer. He’s made stars out of dozens of artists. Madleen, Lucky Love, lots of others."”
“And what?” she asked. “Isn’t that enough? My God, Charles, you’re acting like he’s some stranger off the street.”
“He might as well be,” Charles said and rose to his feet. “Look, you’re my wife so of course I’m going to be protective of you. I just don’t want you setting yourself up to get hurt if this guy turns out to be after you on a physical level. Frankly, I can’t believe you would put yourself in that situation knowing how I would feel about it. I am your husband. Am I supposed to be okay with you spending your time with a strange man?”
“He’s not a strange man,” Ann said angrily. “He’s a talented producer and he thinks that I have something special, and frankly his opinion of me right now means a hell of a lot more than yours does.”
“What does that supposed to mean?”
Ann positioned her hands on her hips. “It means you’d rather think that I”m some stupid, naive child who would let herself be taken advantage of, than a talented woman that someone actually sees something in.”
“I didn’t say—” Charles began.
But Ann was too angry to let him finish. “Well, thank you very much, Charles, for your vote of confidence. At least I know where I stand in this marriage.”
“Baby, wait—” Charles began. He went after her but she was already making her way to the door. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” she said. “And don’t worry, I’ll try not to get lost on the way to the elevator. I know I’m just a dumb woman, but I think I can manage that.”
Charles sighed with defeat as she left and slammed the office door closed behind her.
Later, Lola drove to Malibu so she and Ladys could pick out the centerpieces for the gala. When she arrived at her house, Ladys had the samples that the florist had sent over lined up on a table. After they made their selection, they moved out to the balcony overlooking the ocean. Ladys brought out a tray of drinks—pineapple juice and vodka cocktails garnished with orange slices, cherries, and mint leaves.
“These are lovely drinks, Ladys,” Lola said, admiring the younger woman for her style and flair for details. It showed in everything—the clothes she wore, the jewelry she selected, and the bright colors she used in decorating her home. Lola could see the influence from her Spanish heritage. “And I love that gold necklace.”
Lady touched the necklace with her fingertips. “Thank you. I always feel that I can face the day if I put on something beautiful.”
“Where did you get it?” Lola asked, admiring the thick braided chain encrusted with aquamarine jewels.
“My father,” she told her somberly, the whites of her eyes clouding with tears. “It was the last thing he gave to me before he died.”
Lola hoped she hadn’t stirred up painful memories for her friend. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ladys. I didn’t realize. When did your father pass away?”
Ladys hesitated for a moment. “Twenty years,” she whispered, her expression one of shock as if surprised so much time had gone by. Quickly, she shot to her feet and walked over to the balcony railing.
“Ladys, what is it?” Lola asked and walked up behind her. She could sense something else in her eyes.
Inhaling the fresh ocean air, Ladys closed her eyes for a few moments, and when she opened them again, she began to tell her story.
“When I was eighteen, my father left us. Not because he wanted to, but because he had to. We were very poor like many people in my village in Acapulco. My mother and I worked as maids at one of the hotels. My father did groundskeeping but there was very little work for him. Some of the other men in our village were crossing the border into California to find work. They could make more money in one year than five years in Mexico. So he went and he got a job as a groundskeeper working for a very rich man. That was the last we saw him.”
Lola hung on her every word. “What happened?”
Ladys paused before she answered, as if summoning the strength to talk about it. “He was murdered.”
“Oh my god,” Lola gasped, placing one hand on her chest and reaching out for Ladys with the other. “Ladys, I’m...I’m so sorry. Who would have done something like that?”
“The man who he worked for,” she said and turned around, her eyes darkening. “Jonas Lamont.”
Startled by her proclamation, Lola was immediately filled with questions. “Jonas? Jonas is no murderer. Surely there’s got to be some kind of mistake. I mean, he wouldn’t—”
“I know it is true,” Ladys cut her off.
“But why? Why would Jonas murder your father?”
“Because he accused my father of having an affair with his wife,” Ladys told her. “But he did not! My father loved my mother! He would not do that to her! But Jonas...he did not believe him so he had him murdered! That bastard killed my father and got away with it, and I will never forget that!”
Lola was bewildered. Her mind raced in a thousand directions. “This was twenty years ago?” she asked, searching her memory. “Jonas was married to Nina Channing at that time. I remember their marriage ending abruptly. Jonas banished her from the mansion. I never knew why, but—”
“My father did not do what he was accused of,” Ladys insisted. “But still his body was sent back to us to be buried, his skull smashed in. They said it was an accident, but no one ever investigated what happened. I’ve known from the very beginning, though, and I promised to one day make Jonas Lamont pay.”
“Okay,” Lola said, organizing her thoughts. “Look, maybe there’s something we can do. There were a lot of people hanging around Jonas’s house during that time. Stars, celebrities. Hell, I was there. Maybe one of them saw something or knows something. Just please promise me you won’t do anything. Not until we know something.”
Ladys touched her necklace again. “Si. Yes, of course.” But the determined look in her eyes said something else entirely.
The last thing Madleen wanted was to be anywhere near Titan Records, but when Abigail, the art director, wanted her to come by and look at jacket covers for the new album, she knew she had to go. She arrived with sunglasses covering her puffy eyes and went directly to the conference room, which was more like a lounge, complete with overstuffed furniture and a hi-tech stereo system.
Positioned on a plush beige sofa with her legs tucked beneath her, Madleen studied a stack of album covers. She analyzed every detail, from the size and color of the fonts that were used to the saturation of the photographs. Oliver had always insisted on having full creative control of his album covers. He said they were almost as important as the music itself. She’d let Damon have the say so on her first album, but this time things were going to be different.
“Jacket number one is good but it’s not great,” she said into a micro cassette recorder, hoping to leave her thoughts for Abigail and Damon to hear later. After witnessing what she did at lunch, she had no intention of seeing Damon. There would be no telling what she’d say.
“Jacket two is not good at all. The lettering is too small and the color is very drab,” she continued, then flipped to the next one. The photograph was of her at home in her swimming pool, a sultry pout on her face just as she was coming out of the water. It was similar to Lucky Love’s last album, but she liked it nonetheless. “Number three is very good, but I think the picture speaks for itself—try it without any lettering on the front. Send to me for approval.”
With that, she clicked off the recorder and stretched languorously on the sofa. Just at that moment, the door to the conference room opened and Damon walked in.
“Hey baby, I didn’t know you were coming by today,” he said, strutting across the room with an obvious kick in his step. He leaned down to kiss her but she coldly turned away. Frowning, he took a step back. “Maddy, what’s wrong?”
Furiously, she folded her arms and turned her lips into a concentrated pout. Still, she said nothing.
“Oh, okay, the silent treatment,” Damon said with a bit of humor in his voice. He picked up the stack of album covers. “That’s cool, I’ll just stand here and look at these jackets until you decide to talk to me. Oooh, I like this one.” He flashed her the one that she had immediately said no to. “What do you think?”
“I hate it!” she finally said, jumping off the sofa and snatching the jacket from him. “Just like I hate you! Do you hear me? I hate you!”
“Whoa, calm down,” Damon exclaimed. “What did I do?”
“Who is she, Damon?” Madleen demanded, cornering him against the wall.
“The woman you’re sleeping with! Tell me who she is!”
Groaning, Damon dropped his hands to his sides in exasperation. “Not this again,” he complained. “Baby, I already told you. I’m not having an affair.”
“I saw you with her today!” Madleen insisted. “At Chateau Marmont. The regal black woman you were all over! What were you toasting, anyway? That’s you’d finally pulled one over on me? That you thought your sneaking around behind my back would never catch up with you? Well, guess what? It has! Now who was she?”
“Her name is Ann Merteuil,” he explained, a bit fearful of her rage. “She’s a singer...er, she’s going to be if things work out. She’s dynamite, Maddy. Wait till you hear her. “
“Oh, a singer, huh?” Madleen asked, her tone dripping in disbelief. “And where did you meet this woman?”
“The other day at Chateau Marmont. I recognized her from a club in Vegas a few years ago. Anyway, we got to talking and—”
“So you’ve known her all this time and you never thought to mention it?”
“No,” Damon said with a frown. “It’s not like that. You’re twisting my words around. Listen, come by tomorrow afternoon. We’re going to do a couple of demos. I want you to meet her. I think you’ll hit it off, and maybe you can give her some pointers.”
Madleen glared at him. “I’ll pass.” She turned and started to the door.
“Baby, wait. Don’t go off like this. Let me explain.”
Enraged, Madleen tore the album cover in half, then threw the pieces at him. “We’re through!” she said, then grabbed her purse and darted out of the room in tears.
New York City
When Royce got home to their Park Avenue mansion that evening, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Based on Dr. Dunne’s description of Jackie’s state of mind earlier that day, anything was possible. He half-expected to walk in and find David crying in his crib and his wife nowhere to be found. The house was eerily quiet, though. He made his way to the third floor where their bedroom and David’s nursery was.
“Jackie?” he called, entering their luxurious bedroom while removing his tie. The room, however, was empty.
Since leaving Dr. Dunne’s office, he’d decided that going to Malta wasn’t a good idea. How could he leave his wife in this kind of state? The doctor had been able to calm her down today, but what about next time? What if there was no one there to catch her?
Royce craned his neck when he detected the faint sounds of a lullaby drifting through the air. Slowly, he made his way next door to the nursery. To his surprise, there was Jackie, dressed in a beige chiffon peignoir seated in a rocking chair and cradling David in her arms as he slept. This was the picture he’d longed for for so long. And while she didn’t appear entirely relaxed with the infant, she did appear to be trying.
“Hi,” he said and leaned against the doorway.
Jackie smiled up at him. “Hi. How was your day?”
Shrugging, Royce returned the smile. “It was...not great.”
“Mine either,” she said and stood up carefully, then placed David in his crib.
“You don’t have to put him down yet,” Royce said. He actually liked seeing her with him. It gave him hope that maybe things weren’t as bleak as Dr. Dunne had made them out to be.
“It’s ok. I’ve been rocking him for a while.” She turned to him and took a step forward. “I know I upset you, and—”
Royce shook his head. “No, I was wrong for getting so angry. I can’t pretend to understand what you’re going through, but I shouldn’t have came down on you so hard.”
Jackie looked down. “I’m trying, Royce. Right now that’s all I can promise.”
He pulled her into an embrace. “That’s all I can ask. But David does need his mother. No matter what kind of mother you turn out to be, he’ll always need you.”
Jackie held her head against his chest. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she said in a whisper.
Jonas seeks an old friend for help in finding his assailant. Daphne follows Royce. Joy gets closer to the truth.
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