Charlotte was in the dining room working on her homework when Bella opened the door. “Mama!” she yelled and dropped her pencil, running for her mother.
“Oh, sweetheart I missed you!” Bella exclaimed hugging her daughter tightly.
“What’d you bring me?” she asked, confident in the promise of goodies.
Rog, who was carrying the bags from the limo walked through the door in time to hear Charlotte’s request. “No love for your Daddy, huh?”
“Of course, Daddy!” Charlotte ran to Rog and into his waiting arms as he knelt down to receive her. She covered his face with wet kisses and giggled madly. She missed her parents desperately.
“Let Mama and Daddy unpack and we’ll give you and Chris your presents, okay?” Rog said to her, pulling the last bag through the door.
“Aww,” she replied and pouted. Bella smiled at her. She remembered the excitement of Destiny’s return from a tour and it didn’t seem that long ago, either. She grabbed a suitcase and helped Rog tug them up the stairs to their room.
She unzipped the suitcase and filled the laundry hamper with three-quarters of the contents. Carefully she unwrapped the ivory cat statue she had found in the tomb and set it on their dresser. It was very detailed and beautifully carved. They found the toys they had bought for the kids and set them aside, then Bella carried the laundry to the garage to wash. Rog finished putting the rest of the clothes away and carried the bags to the attic to store them.
Downstairs, Shana was feeding Chris in the high chair after he woke up from a nap. He spotted Bella and started chattering, bouncing up and down in the chair excitedly. She walked to her baby boy and kissed his forehead. “Hello, Punkin! Have you been a good boy for Shana?”
“He was indeed, Miss Bella.” Shana finished wiping up the counter as she tidied the kitchen. “It’s good to have you and Mr. Rog home.”
“Thank you, Shana. It’s good to be home with my family,” Bella answered and truly meant it.
Rog was in the living room sorting through the pile of mail and found a letter for Bella from a publisher. “Hey darling, you have some mail here!” he called to her.
Bella strolled to the living room and took the envelope from Rog. The letter inside was from a large publishing company and they were interested in Bella’s book! A check for the first installment of royalties and a contract for additional books in the “Charlotte and Chris” series was enclosed. This was great news and certainly what she had hoped for in the aftermath of Estevan’s tornado of personal destruction.
She sat at the desk, typing on her laptop. The trip overseas gave Bella many ideas for new episodes in the Charlotte and Chris children’s book series. This book, Charlotte and Chris Go Camping! was the third book in the series. Now that she had the framework for the book in outlines, she could work on the illustrations, which she did herself. Suddenly, she felt a tug at the hem of her shirt.
“Hey little man,” she said warmly and picked him up. He planted a wet hand on her cheek and giggled. “Yuck, Christopher!” she exclaimed laughing with him. “Let’s go get you some lunch.”
She carried him down the stairs and placed him in his high chair. “Appow sauce” he blurted.
“Eat your lunch first and you can have some apple sauce,” she told him. Bella placed a half peanut butter and jelly on a plate in front of him, the crusts cut off. Excitedly, he took a bite of the sandwich and giggled. He was such a happy boy.
Bella decided it was a good time for lunch for herself as well and grabbed the other half of Chris’s sandwich. Shana, who had been folding laundry, appeared at the back door.
“Do you need me, Miss Bella? I’m not feeling well.”
“By all means Shana. Please take the rest of the day off.” Shana nodded and climbed the stairs, sneezing all the way up.
Chris was finished with his sandwich and got his applesauce as promised. Shana made it fresh with apples from the trees in the greenhouse and both kids loved it. Bella wiped his face and set him on the floor so Chris could play. She rummaged in the fridge for veggies and pulled out a whole chicken to make chicken soup for Shana.
Rog walked through the door after work, his first day back after vacation, looking tired and pale. “Not you too,” Bella said, observing his body language.
“Not me too what?” he asked, slumped into his easy chair and heaved a rough cough.
“Sick,” Bella replied. “Shana just went upstairs to lay down, she’s not feeling well either.”
“I’m afraid so, darling.” Rog took a breath and coughed heavily. Bella went to their downstairs bathroom and drew a warm bath for him.
“I have chicken soup on the stove.” She helped him out of his clothes and settled him into the tub. “Call me when you’re ready to get out, love.”
“Achoo!” came a petite sneeze through the front door. Bella’s heart sank.
“Charli? Is that you sweetheart?” She called out.
A weak reply accompanied by a sneeze rang out in the foyer. “Yes, Mama.”
“Oh honey, you don’t sound good.” She took Charlotte’s backpack and walked the child straight upstairs to bed. She was burning up with fever and shaking with chills. Bella tucked the sick girl into bed and turned out the bedroom light. Downstairs, the pot of chicken soup was cooking, and it was beginning to smell good. Where did this come from? She wondered. It was early spring and unseasonal for flu of this intensity.
“Darlin…” Rog called from the bathroom.
“On my way,” Bella answered, walking briskly toward the bathroom. She opened the door and saw Rog trying to get up from the tub unable to move. “Oh love,” she said. “I can’t lift you. I need your help, baby.” Grasping the side of the tub, he exerted all his strength and managed to stand under his own power but she knew there was no way he was going to make it upstairs to bed. She helped him get dressed in a robe and walked him to the sofa, where a fire was roaring. He, too, was burning up with fever. We’re all in trouble if I get this, she thought.
Bella went to the kitchen and finished making the soup then scooped out three bowls of it to serve the sick members of the family. Shana’s door was closed and she knocked. “Shana?”
“Come in,” she said weakly.
“I made you some soup, honey,” Bella said, setting the tray down on her nightstand.
“You didn’t have to do that, Miss Bella.” Shana coughed, a shiver ran through her body.
“You’re not the only one sick. Charli and Rog have it, too.”
“I’m so sorry,” Shana lamented.
“It’s not your fault. Charli probably brought it home from school.” Bella turned to leave. “Do you need anything, Shan?”
“No, thank you, Miss Bella.” She smiled faintly. “You’ve already done so much.”
“No problem, Shana. It’s just soup.” Bella smiled warmly at her. “Now rest.” Shana nodded as she took the soup.
She went to the kids’ room, but Charlotte was asleep. Setting the tray down, she pulled Chris’s crib from the bedroom to her room, where she was certain she’d be alone for the next few nights. No sense in exposing Chris to the germs if she could avoid it. She picked up the tray and padded lightly down the steps. In the living room, she heard a soft groan.
“I’m coming, love,” she said to Rog.
“Don’t get too close, darling,” he muttered. “You don’t need to be sick, too.” He looked at the soup and almost gagged. “None for me, but thank you. Maybe later?”
“Whenever you want it, baby just let me know.” She took the two full bowls back to the kitchen and cleaned up dinner dishes. She flopped down in the chair and once again she felt Chris tugging on her shirt hem.
Bella laughed. “Well, at least you’re not sick, Christopher.” She picked him up and snuggled him close.
It was six weeks before the household was free of the flu. Bella eventually caught it, but luckily Rog was on the mend and was able to take care of her. They missed most of the spring activities being home and sick but with everyone feeling better, they were ready for the summer to arrive.
Bella’s third book was finished and the illustrations completed while she was sick. Shana helped her gather the manuscript and drawings and compile them for the publisher and took the envelope to the post to mail. Bella was still not completely better and she shuffled off to rest dressed in Rog’s bathrobe. Shana took Chris from his crib and brought him downstairs to read to him. It was her favorite activity and the young boy enjoyed the stories.
Every month Bella received regular royalty checks from the children’s books she was writing. She absolutely loved writing and illustrating them, and it had become her new passion. As a surprise to celebrate her newfound success, Rog bought an all-day spa package for her. Giddy with excitement, she chose the services on the spa’s website and made the appointment, making sure that Rog would be home with the kids on the day she chose. She pulled him close and kissed him before she got into Arthur’s old speedster and drove to the spa.
Rog sat with Chris playing blocks with him when Shana appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Rog, can I talk to you?” she asked quietly, hating to disturb Chris’s playtime.
“Sure, Shana,” he replied as he got up from the floor. Without another word, she turned and headed for her room and led him inside.
Once they were in her bedroom, Rog sat at the desk, straddling the chair. “What’s bothering you, Shan?” He could see the concern on her face and hoped that she wasn’t going to tell him she had another assignment.
She walked to the door and pulled it closed, then walked to where he sat. Taking his hands in hers, she pulled him to a standing position and gave him a hug. But this was no friendly hug. She pressed herself against him and caressed his neck. Then she pulled his face to hers and kissed him.
Rog broke the embrace and forcefully pushed her back away from him. “Shana! What are you doing?!” he yelled.
“I just thought you needed some attention. Bella has been so wrapped up in her books, she hasn’t had much time for you.” Shana looked at him seductively.
“No!” Rog rebuked her. “I don’t want this and you are WAY out of line here!” He looked at her, totally disgusted. “What made you think this was okay?”
“Well, I’ve seen things, Rog. Things that she doesn’t want you to know.” Shana said. “Bella hasn’t been faithful to you. I could be your payback.”
“So, now you’re lying to me, too?” Rog paced the floor and ran his fingers through his hair. “Get out.”
“But Rog—” she protested, but Rog interrupted her.
“NOW, Shana,” he yelled pointing toward the door. “Get out of my house!”
Shana stood her ground and covered her face with her hands. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Rog. I don’t know what came over me.” She slumped against the bedpost, catching herself on the corner of the mattress. Hot crocodile tears rolled down her cheeks. “It’s just that, I know Miss Bella hasn’t been happy for a long time.” She pulled a tissue from the box that sat by her bedside and dabbed her eyes, hoping a show of emotion would help sway him. “I thought maybe—”
Rog interrupted her. “You thought wrong. Shana, I can’t, no, I won’t have this conversation with you!” He paced around the small room wringing his hands. “I don’t like to make these decisions without Bella’s input but you’re fired!” Her obvious manipulation wasn’t working on him.
Shana began to sob. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Rog. I’ll be out in less than an hour.”
“I’m sorry, too, Shana. Bella loves you like a sister and this is how you repay her?” He shook his head in frustration. Bella was not going to be happy about this. “I want you out in 15 minutes and I mean it.” Rog walked out of her room shaking and desperately wanting to cry himself. He knew he had to tell Bella, but he wasn’t sure how.
Shana was already gone when Bella returned from the spa and Rog had some time to think about how he would tell her. They had a two day wait for the new butler to arrive and he would need to help her pick up the slack that Shana’s sudden departure would create. The children were already bathed and fed, Chris was asleep and Charlotte was playing with Riley in her room. Bella was very relaxed and in a fantastic mood upon her return and he hated to ruin it.
“Darling, I have to tell you something.” They sat together on the sofa in the living room and he put his arm around her. His face was serious and worry weighed heavily upon his shoulders.
“Is everything okay? The children?” she asked. “Rog, you’re scaring me,” she finally said, noticing tears in his eyes. She never expected what came next.
“I had to let Shana go this afternoon, darling.” His voice quivered and he felt sick.
“What? Why?” she asked, not believing her own ears.
“Well, that’s the complicated part.” Rog swallowed hard, a lump in his throat nearly choking him. “It seems she has had feelings for me for quite some time. She tried to force herself on me.” He watched as her eyes widened and pain contorted her face. “She also had some colorful things to say about you which I hope are blatant lies.”
“What did she say?” Bella almost didn’t believe the words he spoke.
“She told me that she has seen you do things, that she had information that you were cheating…” His voice trailed off, the pain on her face was slowly killing him.
Bella sat, her anger building steadily. “So she lied about me and you just believed her and did what, exactly?”
“I pushed her away, Bella. And you don’t get sole rights to be angry here! Why would she say that about you? What are you hiding?”
“Whatever she said it’s not true, Rogelio!” He hated it when she used his full name during a fight. “I’m not hiding anything from you! How could you even think that?”
“So you’re denying everything she told me? You’ve done nothing? Why would she lie?” Rog was just as angry as she was now.
“I don’t know, Rog. Maybe because she wanted you? Maybe she thought lying would make it easier for you to cheat on me with her?” Bella was the one feeling sick now.
“Well darling, I told her to leave. I don’t want her—”
“Don’t call me ‘darling’!” she spat as she turned to run from him. He caught her arm and spun her to face him.
“Bella, don’t you see? I promised you I would never betray you or dishonor you, and I never have.” He hugged her close but she flailed in his arms and struck him repeatedly.
“Let me go!” she yelled, fighting him harder.
“No!” He answered and held her tightly. “Not like this.” He held her until she collapsed in his arms, crying uncontrollably. They both sat on the sofa together, and he held her and gently rocked her until she settled down. With tears rolling down his own cheeks, he softly wiped hers away. “I didn’t want to have to tell you this, Bell. It was killing me, but I knew I had to.” He kissed her cheek softly and held her face in his hands. “Believe me, I fired her as soon as it happened. I really didn’t want to fire her without your input—”
“Oh, I would have definitely fired her,” Bella said, raw emotion choking her words. “I don’t want to see that woman again near this house or around our family.”
“Me neither,” Rog concurred. “Darling, I’m so sorry. I knew I couldn’t trust her or anything she said after…” He paused to collect himself. “I knew she had to be lying about you.”
“I’m sorry, too, baby.” Bella hugged him close. “It just makes me crazy to think of her wanting you like that. How stupid could I be?”
“It’s not your fault, and it’s not my fault, Bell. Neither of us saw this coming. She was a smooth operator.” Rog kissed her.
“You’re right,” she replied. Yawning, she wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’m tired.”
They both stood and walked hand in hand up the stairs to bed. At the bedroom door, he swooped her up and carried her to the bed as she gently closed the door behind them.
Up Next: Chapter Eleven, Generation Three