Rog came home from work, a stack of mail in his hand. “This one is for you, darling,” he said as he handed her a large manila envelope. He threw the rest of the pile on the desk.
Bella opened the letter with great interest. It was from a different publisher, and they were interested in signing her to write Destiny and Arthur’s official biography. She pondered it for a nanosecond and gave a loud “whoop,”
“What’s wrong, Bell?” Rog asked.
“A huge publisher wants to contract me to write Mama and Daddy’s official biography!” She hugged him tightly.
“Darling, that is great news!” He knew what a book deal like this could do for Bella. It was a potential life-changer.
“I’ll have Hal’s boy look over the contract, make sure it’s on the up and up.” Even though Hal Fournier had long since met the Reaper, his son Nicholas was running the firm. She trusted him, as he had counseled her during her first book contracts as well.
“Need some company?” Rog asked hopefully.
“I’ll always need you, baby,” she said, kissing him.
The next day, she and Rog drove to Nick’s downtown penthouse office. The secretary welcomed them and invited them to be seated. “Nick, the St. Johns are here.”
“Wonderful!” Nick chirped back. “Send them in!”
They walked back to the office where Hal used to sit, and gently rapped on the door. “Come in, Bella, Rog!” Nick called from inside. The door creaked as it swung, and they walked inside.
Rog held out his hand for Nick Fournier to shake. “Good to see ya!” Rog said. A large painted portrait of Hal hung over the faux fireplace in the office.
Nick held his arms open, “Bella! You’re looking ravishing, as usual!” He shot a wink to Rog. “You are one lucky man, my friend.”
Rog nodded, keeping a close watchful eye on Nick. Just because Bella trusted him, didn’t mean Rog did.
Nick pointed to the chairs on the other side of his desk and motioned for them to sit, as he sat forcefully in his father’s old leather chair. “Now that we have all the pleasantries out of the way, how can I help you?”
Bella handed Nick the envelope. “I have an offer by a big publisher from Pleasantview, They want me to write my mother and father’s biography.” Nick removed the contract and perused it. Muttering to himself in legal jargon, he seemed to be checking the document for any gotchas or clauses that would be harmful to Bella. Reading one paragraph, he paused and grimaced.
“They want you to use your real name, Bella. No ghostwriting, no pen names.” She sighed.
“What is your opinion about that, Nick?” Rog asked.
“Well, if she was my wife, I’d keep her as far from this deal as possible.” He continued to scan the document. “With the real name being published, you run the risk of harming your brand on your kid’s books,” Turning the page, he continued to scan the document. “Other than that one item, it’s a sound contract.” He handed it back to Bella.
“Is the risk worth the payoff, Nick?” She asked, obviously concerned.
“That’s a chance you’ll take if you decide to do this.”
Nick stood up and walked toward the door. “I hate to rush you out, but I’m meeting my wife for dinner tonight. It’s our 5th anniversary today.”
“Congratulations!” Bella quipped. We just celebrated 20 this past fall.”
“Congratulations to you folks, too!” Nick said. “If you have any questions, call me.”
Bella sat at her computer, writing the last chapter in a section of Destiny and Arthur’s biography. She compressed the file into a folder and emailed it to the publisher. She stood up, stretching her legs, walking around. Her stomach grumbled, so she checked her watch. 1:05 PM. Yep, she thought, past time for lunch.
Things had been strained in the house since she took the biography job. Rog was more than furious with her when she decided to take on the project. He didn’t feel the payout was worth the risk. He was dead set against it, in fact, and he hated her defiance and stubbornness. They spent many evenings arguing, but in the end, her will was stronger. His anger and disappointment in her consumed him.
The book, titled Destiny’s Art, was almost two-thirds done. Just one more segment, and the most important book of her career would be finished. Her reasoning was simple: she wanted to make certain that her parents were properly portrayed, not by someone who knew nothing of the family. Bree was not a writer by any means, and she was sounding sickly the last time Bella had spoken to her. Bianca’s talents were more with a brush than a pen or typewriter, and she doubted that Bee even remembered enough about them to write. No, it was her mission.
Six months before the book’s release was scheduled, Rog got a strange letter in the mail. He opened it carefully and pulled the enclosure out to read. It contained four simple words.
YOU’RE A DEAD MAN!
His blood ran cold, and he dropped the letter on the floor. Feeling sick, he stumbled to the bathroom and vomited. Bella heard him and rushed to his side.
“Leave me alone,” he snapped.
“What happened, baby?” she asked, trying to pretend his treatment of her didn’t rip her heart to shreds.
“It’s nothing,” he said, turning away from her.
“It has to be something.” She walked to the living room and saw a slip of paper on the floor. Picking it up, she read the same four words.
YOU’RE A DEAD MAN!
The envelope was addressed to Rog. Stifling a scream, she dropped the letter and called the police.
While the police were en route, she called the publisher. Voice mail, of course, she thought. She decided to leave a message anyway.
This is Bella Atwood-St John, and I am calling to request the cancellation of my contract for the biography Destiny’s Art. I wish to activate my escape clause. Reason stated, personal safety. Have Eliza call me asap.
Just as she hung up the phone, she heard sirens approaching the house. Thank goodness the kids were not home, she thought. She left the note on the floor where she had dropped it. Rog, who had heard the sirens, ran to Bella, taking her by the shoulders, shaking her.
“This is YOUR fault! You stupid, selfish, careless woman!” His words pierced her heart. Not wanting to cry in front of the police, she swallowed the pain and greeted the officers at the door.
“It’s right here,” she said, pointing at the paper on the floor. Carefully, the officer picked it up and turned it over. The same four, awful words blazed on it:
YOU’RE A DEAD MAN!
“Rog, honey,” she yelled to him, “Where is the envelope?
“On the table,” he spat. She heard his angry footsteps stomping upstairs.
The officer retrieved the envelope from the table and bagged it as evidence. “Is Mr. St John available?”
“NO!” he screamed from the bedroom before he slammed the door.
Bella couldn’t take it any longer, and began to weep. The officer placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Are you safe here, Mrs St John? Is your husband a threat to you?”
No, he won’t hurt me, but he is very… angry with me.”
“Well, if you need anything, just call me.” They left a business card and drove away.
She fell against the wall, and slid down, sobbing.
The next morning, the phone rang early. Bella fumbled to answer it. “Hello?”
“Mrs. St John, this is Detective Sherman from the Shores police department, regarding the letter that was sent to your husband.”
She sat up in bed, fully awake, noticing the empty space beside her… again. “Yes, detective, do you have any news?”
“We traced the postmark to Strangeville, Ma’am. Do you know anyone who lives there?“
“My crazy ex-boyfriend, Estevan Best, has spent the last 19 years in prison there.” She thought for a moment. “That makes sense, though. He might be up for release soon.”
“Would he have reason to want to hurt you or your family?“
“Yes, I believe he would, detective.”
Bella ran downstairs to the sofa, where Rog had been spending his nights since she took the job. “Rog! Rog! Wake up!”
He pulled the blanket over his head and turned over. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“Rog, the police just called.” She was shaking. “They traced the postmark to Strangeville.”
Rog sat up. “Estevan.”
Bella buried her face in her hands. “I need you, baby.”
Her phone rang. It was Eliza, her contact at the publisher. “Hello?”
“Bella, this is Eliza. What happened?”
“I don’t want to do the book anymore, Eliza. It’s causing threats to my family, and I can’t jeopardize them.”
“But, but,” Eliza stammered on the other end. “it’s fabulous! It will be a bestseller, millions in income for you and your family.”
“I’m sorry, Eliza. I can’t…” Bella began to cry.
“Well then, I’ll get Jerry on the contract right away. We’re sorry it has to end this way,” Eliza said. “I’ll be in touch soon.”
“Thank you,” Bella replied, and hung up the phone.
“What did you do?” Rog asked her softly.
“I’m walking away from my project, Rog.” She wept. “You are right. I was being stupid, and selfish…”
“But, you’ve poured your heart and soul into that book.” He had seen her spend hours, flipping through photo albums, Destiny’s journals, crying and laughing. And now, she was walking away from it all. For him.
“It’s not worth it, Rog. It’s not worth losing everything. You. The kids.” She wiped her tears away, needing his touch. She hadn’t felt him next to her in months, and she was lonely.
“But, your book hasn’t even been announced yet.”
“It doesn’t matter. This will happen afterward, too. The Estevan Effect will always follow me… it might even kill me.”
“That isn’t going to happen while I’m alive.” Rog got up and walked to where she was, and sat beside her. “If that bastard comes around here, I will kill him.” He kissed her forehead, the first physical contact they’d had in months. She closed her eyes, relishing the affection she longed for.
“We might have to leave Starlight Shores, baby,” she said, sniffling.
He sighed. So much headache came with transferring to a different city as a doctor. Paperwork, exams. “If we have to, so be it.” He rubbed his temples, trying to ward off a headache. “I’m not sure moving will solve anything. He will always come for you, Bella.”
“Are you sorry now, Rog? That you stuck around? That you stayed with me when you knew he was this freaking crazy?” She feared she knew the answer.
“I’ll never be sorry, Bella. Never.” He turned her toward him and embraced her. She melted into his arms.
“I’ve waited so long to feel your arms around me again,” she whispered and choked back a sob. She pulled away from him and looked into his eyes. “I need you, Rog. If we’re going to overcome this, we can’t do it alone.”
He knew he was in the doghouse, big time. The way he had carried on, the way he treated her over the past six months. He wasn’t sure there was enough forgiveness in her heart for him. “Bella, darling,” he began, “I know I’ve been a real jerk—.”
She stopped him. “Yes, you have.” He hung his head, ashamed.
“I don’t know if you have enough love left for me..” He felt queasy. This was the moment their almost 21 years of marriage came to. Could she forgive him? Could he forgive himself?
“I will always love you,” she said. “Love has never been a problem.”
He swallowed hard, almost choking. “I don’t even know where to begin,” he cried. “I feel like just saying I’m sorry won’t be enough.”
He searched his heart and found nothing but regret buried deep inside him. The words were there, but he couldn’t speak them. When he opened his mouth, only emptiness reverberated. She sat, staring at him, which wasn’t helping.
“Are you even sorry, Rog? Maybe I should ask you if YOU have enough love left for me. Or has your anger eaten it all away?” She spoke firmly.
“Baby, it’s not like that,” he cried. “I love you more than you know.”
“You’ve had a funny way of showing it.” Her words cut him to the quick, and he knew she was right.
“You’re right, and you have every reason to be angry.”
“I’m not angry, Rog.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m wounded.”
Ouch, he thought. That’s even worse than angry. “I could show you I love you a million ways, and it could never make up for all the damage I’ve caused. And I could never express to you how sorry I am, for all the pain you carry on your face… in your soul.” She sat with her arms crossed, ready to forgive him, if only he would say it.
Seeing his petitions were making little difference, desperation set in. On his knees, he went before her, crying. “Bella, darling, I am so sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I treated you so badly. I’m sorry I broke my promise, to always respect you, and always honor you.” There it was. She smiled.
“Hey… oh, baby,” she said, lifting his chin as he cried, resting on all fours. “You are forgiven.” She rubbed his back as he sobbed. “Shhh, it’s okay,” she soothed. She slid down to the floor next to him and cradled his head in her lap. His body fell limp as he sobbed, and she softly sang to him.
When he could collect himself, he finally spoke again. “Why? Why can you so easily forgive me, after all the pain I caused?”
She ran her fingers through his black hair, twirling his curls around her finger. “Because I love you, Rog.”
“I love you so much, Bella, it hurts.”
Caressing his cheek, she spoke softly. “Rog, take me to bed.”
The detective was able to confirm that Estevan had sent the death threat letter to Rog, which opened up a whole new can of worms for him. Rog and Bella pressed charges, and he pleaded No Contest. Estevan would be in jail for the rest of his life, however long it would be. Bella knew with him locked away, her family would be safe. However, her decision to discontinue her writing project stood.
Rog now had the formidable task of rebuilding his strained relationships with his children. Charlotte and Chris naturally sided with their mother, seeing his irrational behavior. They might not be so quick to forgive, as their mother had.
Charli had already known some background on Estevan and his shenanigans, but Chris had no clue who the man even was, let alone the history. Rog and Bella sat the children down to talk, sitting at the dining room table.
“Your Dad and I need to talk to you,” Bella began, knowing that if she started the conversation, it would be better received. Through the whole ordeal, however, she never spoke badly of Rog to the kids. Charlotte sat with her arms crossed, looking angry. Chris was more at ease. “Charlotte, you already know some of this, but there is much you don’t know, so bear with me.”
“When I was Chris’ age, I had a boyfriend named Estevan Best. We were an item for close to a year, and we had a terrible breakup.” She sighed, not wanting to dredge up the past like this, but continued. “Then, after I began my career, which was in performing…”
Charli interrupted her. “You were a magician.”
Chris perked up. “Really? That’s awesome!”
“Yes, I was. My stage name was Bella Hill, like Nana’s.” Both children nodded. “Anyway, this Estevan guy decided he had it out for me, and made my life, our lives, a living nightmare. He and his sister started lying about me, you might have heard some chatter in your group of friends, or around town. Please know that everything you hear is not true. But like I told Charli, I’m not going to tell you what to believe and what not to believe.”
Rog spoke up. “So, this Estevan character got himself and his sister thrown in jail for failing to pay your mother a very large sum of money. Long story short.”
“Thank you, baby,” Bella said. “So this is why, when I wrote the books about you guys when you were little, they had a different name on them. And when I agreed to write the book about Nana and Pop-Pop, part of that agreement was that I had to use my real name. That was what our argument was about. Your dad was against it because he feared for our safety, and for my career. There was a good chance that my writing days would have been over. Your dad was trying to protect me. To protect us.”
“Why are we just hearing about this part now, Mama?” Charli asked.
“Does it change anything?”
“It does. A lot.” She got up and hugged her father. “Daddy, I’m so sorry.”
“Me too, Dad,” Chris said, holding his hand for Rog to shake.
“You guys are forgiven, but that doesn’t give you the right to be angry with your Mama now. And, while I have your attention, I want to say how sorry I am for my behavior. I broke a lot of promises over the past six months. Your mother, very generously, forgave me. I hope that you two will find it in your hearts to forgive your old man.”
Charli looked at her mother, hurt. “Did you really put our lives in danger so you could write a book?”
“No, sweetheart,” Bella replied. “You were never in danger. My book project has been scrapped, and it will never be published.”
“But you were going to,” Charli said.
“What changed your mind, Mama?” Chris asked.
“This is where that Estevan guy fits in, kids,” Rog explained. “A few days ago, I got a letter in the mail, a death threat.”
Charli’s eyes widened, and flashed disgust at Bella. “Because of the book?”
“No, princess,” Rog explained. “Estevan was getting ready to be released, and he was plotting to come back here to Starlight Shores.”
“Luckily for us,” Bella continued, “his threat got him in more trouble. Your Dad and I pressed charges, and he is going to be in jail for probably the rest of his life.”
Chris shook his head, incredulous. “This is unbelievable, Dad.” He hugged Rog. “I forgive you, though it doesn’t sound like you have much to be sorry for.”
Rog shook his head. “You’re wrong, son. I was in the wrong on most of this, not your Mama.”
“Charlotte, are you okay?” Bella looked worried.
“This is a lot to process, Mama. I don’t know.” She looked at Rog and smiled. “I forgive YOU.” She turned and climbed the steps to her room, and slammed the door.
Up Next: Chapter Fourteen, Generation Three