Convicted, стр. 94

The angst of the last few hours dissipated as Tony moved the rocking chair from the nursery and placed it near Claire’s head. After he washed his hands, he sat and Madeline placed their bundle of joy in his arms. Never had Tony imagined another woman taking residence in his heart. It belonged to Claire and had for a very long time. Once again, he’d been wrong. It wasn’t that the little girl he held replaced her mother—that wasn’t possible. No, this little girl expanded his heart, making her own space. It seemed unbelievable that his heart could grow—it wasn’t that long ago that Tony didn’t even know it existed. Gently, Tony kissed his daughter’s forehead and watched her nose crinkle.

“Monsieur, what is her name?” Madeline asked with anticipation.

“We’ll wait until Claire awakes. We never pinpointed one girl’s name.”

Tony saw the exchange of looks between Madeline and Dr. Gilbert. Dr. Gilbert explained their concern, “Mr. Rawlings, it’s almost midnight. The people of these islands are strong in their traditions and beliefs. No child should enter the next day without their proper name. It’ll bring uncertainty and unhappiness to the rest of its life.”

Tony looked at his watch; it was 11:53 PM. His mind went back over all of their naming discussions. They had gone through list after list of names. She’d said Blaine could be for a girl too, but that didn’t feel right. The conversation that came to Tony’s tired mind was one from when he first arrived on the island. This baby, he’d said, won’t be a Rawls or a Nichols but a Rawlings. She was a Rawlings; nevertheless, Rawls was part of Rawlings no matter how much Tony tried to run or hide from the fact, and his daughter was also a Nichols, something he wanted her to know with pride. Clearing his throat, Tony looked up at Madeline and Dr. Gilbert’s expectant eyes, and said, “May I introduce our daughter, Nichol Courtney Rawlings.”

Madeline’s smile beamed, reaffirming the joy that now filled the suite.

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When Claire awoke, she was lying on a bed in her room. Somehow, she knew it wasn’t their bed, but nonetheless, next to her propped against the headboard was her husband. When she turned toward him, her eyes opened wide and her lungs forgot to inhale. In his arms, wrapped in a blanket was a sleeping baby. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Claire lifted her head. Her body ached, yet she could move without effort. “I did it?” she asked as his tired eyes met hers. The soft chocolate color drew her nearer.

“Yes, Mrs. Rawlings, you did.” He leaned down and their lips met. Looking lovingly into her eyes, he added, “You did a superb job.”

Claire righted herself to sit beside her family. In the bend of her right arm was the too familiar pinch of an IV. Choosing to ignore the painful sensation, Claire concentrated on her family. Despite Tony’s obvious exhaustion, she saw the pride behind his expression. Once again, Tony brushed his lips against hers before he placed their baby in her arms. “May I introduce our daughter?”

Claire’s heart melted. “A girl—M—Madeline was right.”

Shaking his head, Tony replied, “I don’t think she should ever be doubted again.”

“We didn’t decide on a girl’s name.” Claire’s words came as she gently unwrapped the blanket, exposing the present she’d been carrying for nine months.

“She has a name.”

Claire looked up. “Oh?”

“There’s some island wives’ tale that forbids the changing to the next day without a name. I hope you don’t mind. I didn’t want to risk our daughter having any unnecessary ill fortune.”

Claire tried to grasp the reality of not only having a daughter, but that she was already named. “Is it Raquel?” It had been his go-to name in all their debates.

“No, I wanted a name that would unite our family; one that said the Rawls vendetta is over.”

Claire didn’t know what to say. Tony’s words were more emotion filled than she could remember hearing. “What is it? What name did you choose?”

“Nichol.” Tony’s eyes begged for understanding.

Claire’s lips parted and her eyes sparkled. The game was done—no more strategizing or manipulating; instead of declaring a winner, they’d called it even. Their daughter’s name was Claire’s ultimate prize. Claire’s heart filled with pride. Immediately, she knew it was Tony’s way of telling their daughter she was both a Nichols and a Rawlings. “Oh, Tony, I love it! We never even talked about that.”

Tony’s chest moved as he exhaled with relief. “Nichol Courtney Rawlings.”

It was the most beautiful name she’d ever heard. As Nichol’s eyes opened and Claire saw the chocolate brown she loved, she whispered, “I wanted your eyes. You wanted a girl. We’ve been blessed with both of our wishes.” Nichol’s mouth rooted toward Claire’s breast.

Tony’s eyes drifted closed as his head fell back to the wall. It had been a long forty-eight hours. Before he fell asleep, Claire heard him say, “A wish, a dream, a miracle—Whatever it is, it’s real.”

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It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.

—Rose Kennedy

Sophia eased her car onto the circular brick drive in front of Marie’s massive house. On her cell phone, she heard Derek’s voice, “Have a nice lunch, babe. Is the house as nice as you anticipated?”

Her mouth gaped open as she looked up at the Romanesque-style mansion with facades of river stone, limestone, and brick. It was like something out of a 1940’s movie. “It’s amazing. I can’t believe she really lives here. Do people actually live like this?”

Derek laughed. “Well, she worked for Rawlings. That’s his house—or it was. No one knows if he’s alive or dead, but it’s probably not great table-talk for your lunch.”

“I’ll try to remember that—keep conversation topics away from missing employers. What did you say; she’s named the executor of his estate?”

“Yeah, the information I found just named her as a long-time trusted employee—”

Sophia interrupted, “Hey, honey, the front door’s opening. I should get out of the car. I’ll call you when I’m on my way home.”

She heard him say he loved her as she turned off the car and the Bluetooth disconnected. “I love you, too,” she said to the warm air within the confines of her car. It was a stark contrast to the cold February chill between her and the mansion she was about to enter. Sophia secured her coat and gloves and bowed her face to the snowflakes as she hurried toward the grand doors.

The gentleman within nodded as her shoes hit the marble floor. Looking down, she saw the traces of snow that had fallen from her shoes and created puddles within the beautiful foyer. “Ms. Sophia?”

“Yes,” she said sheepishly. “Hello.” Sophia offered her hand.

The gentleman nodded again and said, “Ms. London is expecting you. May I take your coat?”

Sophia tried desperately not to gawk at her surroundings as she removed her coat and gloves and handed them to the butler—um—servant? She didn’t know who he was—only, that apparently, he didn’t shake hands. “Yes, thank you. Where is Mar—Ms. London? Is she here?”

“Yes, miss. She’s waiting for you in the sitting room. Please follow me.”

Each step reminded Sophia of a fantasy. Growing up in New Jersey and being a fan of the arts, Sophia loved watching old movies, especially those in black and white. If there was singing and dancing, it made it all the better. When she’d go to bed at night she’d think about the movies and the places the characters lived. She dreamt about mansions, servants, and opulence. As she grew up, Sophia learned that a life like she saw in the movies was mostly a world of fantasy. She could glean inspiration from it, but it didn’t truly exist. Stepping down into a warm sitting room, Sophia hypothesized—maybe this world did exist. She glanced toward a fireplace that was nearly the size of her living room in Provincetown. Within its limestone walls a warm fire roared, filling the room with warmth.