Convicted, стр. 101

“Brent didn’t tell Tony it wasn’t new information, but he did call him out.”

Claire smiled. “Tell Brent thank you. I know that must have been very difficult for him.”

Courtney shrugged. “It was good for them. Now, with all Brent’s done in Tony’s absence, I think they too will be better than before.”

Claire squeezed her best friend’s hand. “I’ve missed you so much. I only learned in the van that you’ve known our secret all along.”

“Once Tony disappeared, Brent knew he was out looking for you. He never thought he was hurt in the emergency landing. The FBI were too elusive. Eventually, Mr. Roach contacted Brent with a message from Tony. They hoped it would escape the FBI’s radar. After all, Brent was the one who hired Mr. Roach to track you last year.”

Claire listened in marvel as all the memories of the past twelve months cascaded through her mind. It seemed impossible that she’d been released from prison only a year ago; so much had happened.

Courtney proceeded to fill Claire in on her and Brent’s children. Maryn, their daughter, was about to complete her doctoral thesis, and Caleb and Julia were doing well. As Courtney took Nichol from Claire’s arms, she added, “No grandchildren—yet.”

Claire remembered how Courtney wanted them. “Well, hopefully one day we’ll be living back here, and you can be Aunt Cort or Grandma if you’d prefer.”

“Oh no, Aunt is just fine, even when I am a grandma we’ll need to come up with a younger sounding title.” Claire went to their bags to get her things, when Courtney’s voice rose in volume. “Oh, my goodness, you probably don’t know!”

Startled, Claire turned and asked, “Know what?”

“You’re going to be an aunt!”

Staring at Courtney’s nodding head, Claire teetered between excited and scared. “Emily’s pregnant?”

“Yes, but she isn’t due until July. We started talking periodically after you disappeared.”

“And, even after you knew we were safe, you didn’t tell her?”

“It was difficult, but not telling her was supposed to keep her and John safe. Brent hated what they were doing to Rawlings Industries, but Mr. Roach assured us that Tony thought it was best.”

Claire collapsed on the edge of the bed. She was too tired to censor everything she said. Shock and disbelief were evident in each word, “Tony knew? He knew you had information that would convince John and Emily to stop their pursuit of Rawlings Industries, and he told Brent not to use it? He chose my family over his company?”

Courtney’s blue eyes twinkled. “He did, sweetie. He didn’t know about Emily’s baby, probably still doesn’t, but he knew about the plan to keep them safe. Actually, I think the plan was his idea. That’s why I thought you were all right. I hoped and prayed”—she squeezed Claire’s knee—“It was just that seeing you—I needed to be sure.”

“I am. Now, I’m even more worried about Emily. Oh, my God, she’s pregnant! I wonder if that’s why Catherine wanted to see her. I mean, now there will be another child of a child”—her hands trembled—“Why would Emily agree to visit Catherine?”

“I wanted to tell her not to come. I even tried to dissuade her—I told her I could get things from the house. She said she wanted to see everything herself.”

“That’s my sister. She probably thinks she’ll learn more about me if she goes to the estate.” Claire tried to focus on all the issues. “With all the bad publicity she and John generated, how bad is it for Rawlings Industries? I’ve tried to keep up, but it isn’t the—”

Before Claire could finish her question, the ladies turned to see the opening door with Tony’s questioning eyes peering toward them. Grinning, he opened it wider and exposed Brent. “I wanted to be sure Nichol was done eating,” he explained as both men entered the room.

It was obvious that Tony and Brent’s issues were resolved. The four friends had entered a new world. Too much time had been lost to secrets. In the midst of chaos, they’d reached understanding and openness.

Tony large hands massaged Claire’s tight shoulders as Brent stepped closer to Nichol. She was sleeping soundly in Courtney’s arms. Approvingly, he remarked, “You did great, Claire. She’s beautiful!”

Courtney added, “Wait until you see her awake. She has the biggest, most beautiful brown eyes.”

Tony laughed. “Evidence that Claire had a little help.”

“I hope we can all be together tomorrow evening. I have a meeting in Chicago”—looking at his watch, Brent added—“in less than six hours, so perhaps we should get some sleep.”

Courtney asked, “Do you know how long you two will be here?”

Claire looked to Tony. She wanted him to be in control. No—she needed him to be in control. She knew, in order for everything to work, he needed to take charge. Finally, he answered, “We don’t. We’ll need to see what happens tomorrow.”

Courtney kissed Nichol’s head as she handed her back to Claire. Before the Simmons’ left the room, Brent added, “Claire, I can tell you’re scared. I like Roach—he’s good. As long as he and Tony work together, everything will be fine.”

They all knew there were no guarantees. Too many things could happen in the next twenty-four hours—Claire refused to consider the possibilities; instead, she nodded and smiled at their best friends as they closed the door. Claire laid their sleeping daughter on the soft sheet of a portable crib near the foot of their bed and covered her with a thin blanket. Envying Nichol’s innocence, she knew it was like her glass house from years ago—quietly, she said a prayer, “Please, God, help us all work together and not allow it to shatter.”

Before Claire walked to the bathroom to get ready for bed, Tony seized her arm and pulled her toward him. “Brent’s right—you were right—Roach is great. His knowledge and expertise has exceeded my expectations, and I’ll listen to his advice. Tomorrow, after I get back, we’ll decide when we’re leaving.”

Claire nodded. She couldn’t respond verbally if she wanted—the lump in her throat was too big to swallow. Burying her head against his chest, she enjoyed the sensation of his arms around her, a shield to keep all the bad away. For the moment, she could pretend everything was all right and forget about the danger. After all, compartmentalization was her specialty.

As they settled into bed, Claire asked, “The thing you remembered in the van, about the last time you talked to Brent, is everything settled?”

Tony wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. Claire’s head rested on his shoulder, she inhaled his musky scent, and listened to his confident tone, “Yes, I believe we’ve reached an understanding.”

“They didn’t have to help us like this.”

“You’re right. Someday, we’ll repay them.”

Nuzzling against his skin, Claire considered pressing Tony to confess the subject of his and Brent’s argument. She wondered if he’d tell her, but then she wondered why she wanted him to confess. After all, that testimony was about another time—another life—a life she had no desire to discuss or remember. Soon, her thoughts faded into nothingness. Traveling had worn her out—sleep would no longer wait.

Convicted - _113.jpg

A friend is one who walks in when others walk out .

—Walter Winchell

Meredith desperately tried to scroll the contacts in her phone. Her trembling hands, combined with the emotion coursing through her veins, made the simple task more complex. Did she want to go to jail? Was that her goal? If it wasn’t, why then did she continually find herself in these precarious situations?

It had been almost two weeks since Claire came out to her family. With each passing day, she seemed stronger and more resilient. She now engaged in flowing conversation—her one word or phrased responses were a thing of the past. Meredith surmised it was a testimony to Claire’s thoughts. Instead of having fleeting, individual ideas which Claire felt the need to protect, her thoughts now came together in embellished trains—much more conducive for speech.