G5 Chapter Thirty Five, Part Two – The Worst Day, Part Two

Two Hours Before

“To your room, young lady, and please don’t wake your sister,” Darcey said, pointing to the girls’ bedroom door. “I’ll deal with you in a moment.” Darcey collapsed onto the sofa and huffed a sigh of relief. Rae Kemp sat at the counter reading the paper when the front door opened. She set the paper down and stood, watching down the hall as Elyse slinked off to her bedroom.

“Rough night, Darcey?” Rae asked her. 

“Oh, Rae, you can’t imagine. That kid is in some serious trouble. I’d hate to be her.” 

“How about some tea?”

“You know, tea sounds good. If you don’t mind, I’ll join you when I’m done dealing with Lysie.” 

“I wouldn’t have offered it if I minded. Just care for Elyse, and I’ll care for you.” Rae walked to the kitchen to put the teakettle on the stove, humming a cheerful tune.

Darcey slipped her shoes from her feet and rubbed the soreness out of them. After traipsing around the islands for the equivalent of two ER shifts, they hurt. “I’ll be right out,” she said and limped toward the girls’ bedroom. When she opened the door, Elyse was on her bed, weeping. 

“I’m in big trouble, aren’t I, Aunt Darcey?” she whispered, tears in her eyes. 

Darcey nodded her head. “You should have known better, Lysie. I know you’ve been through more than most kids your age. Being from a famous family takes a toll. I know all about that, sweetheart. But you can’t do as you please and think you’ll get away with it because you lost your brother. Your mama and dad lost a child, and their suffering was on display for the entire country to see. You won’t understand it until you have a child of your own. It’s a terrible pain to endure, and they didn’t deserve it any more than Emmitt deserved to drown.” She sat on the bed next to Elyse and put her arm around her. “If you need someone to talk to, I’m always here for you. And if I can’t help you, I will find someone who can.” 

Elyse wiped tears from her eyes. “You’d do that for me?”

Darcey’s expression softened, and she embraced Elyse in a hug. “Oh sweetheart, of course I will. I love you, you know.” 

“Thank you, Aunt Darcey. I love you, too. And I’m sorry I said I hated you—I don’t. I was just angry.” She looked down at her folded hands and sighed. 

“You’re forgiven, sweet pea.” Darcey kissed Elyse’s forehead. “Why don’t you get ready for bed? If I hear anything about your dad, I’ll come tell you. Deal?” 

She sniffled and wiped her tears. “Thanks, Aunt Darcey.”

“You’re a good girl, Elyse. Please, don’t make trouble for your mama and dad, okay? They do so much for you and your brothers and sister, and your misbehaving? Well, it hurts them. It’s like a slap in the face when you act up.” Darcey noticed Elyse wince and touch her face. “You’re so much better than that.” 

“Okay,” she said, and nodded. “I won’t.” 

“Get some sleep, Lysie. Morning will be here soon. Goodnight.” 

“Goodnight, Aunt Darcey.” Elyse changed into her pajamas and snuggled down into bed, and drifted off to sleep.

Darcey walked back to the living room, where a fresh cup of chamomile waited for her. “I don’t know what you like in your tea, Darcey, so I just brought some honey and lemon for you to choose.” 

Darcey picked up the teacup and breathed in the minty vapor. It was the first time since Danae’s frantic phone call she had allowed herself to relax—her body melted into the sofa cushions with the first sip of tea. 

“Thank you so much, Rae, for coming and watching the kids and Danae. It’s been a tough day for this family. Andy needs to consider how his decisions affect those who love him.” 

Rae took a sip of her tea. “Don’t be too harsh on him, Darcey. Andy is more sensitive than any of us realize. He and Kirby are so much alike, sometimes it’s a little creepy. Kirby would have done the same thing.” 

“Run away from his problems? Kirby doesn’t seem the type.” 

“Not running from his problems, Darcey. Allowing me to be free. Of course, I would never want that. But it’s that mindset—the fear of failing his family. That’s what drove Andy away.” She took a sip of tea and sat forward in her seat. “I have every confidence that Kirby will find him and bring him home. It’s because they’re so alike that I know my Kirby will find him. He has to, for everyone’s sake.”   

Darcey sipped her tea. “Mmhmm. Andy knows how much Nae loves him, and I know he adores her. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for him to walk away from her.” A smile of sudden understanding pulled across her face. “Now that I think about it, it shows his love for her, doesn’t it?” 

Rae nodded and smiled. “You’re catching on. Andy is a good man. Honest, hardworking, decent, loyal. His work ethic is impeccable. Kirby saw all those qualities in him when they met. It’s why he’s working so hard to take care of Andy. He needs his manager to run the team.”

“Just like Danae needs him here.” Darcey set her teacup on the coffee table and tucked her leg under her. “He’s a very important guy. He’s the reason we’re here. Clint is so thankful for that, too. He loves life on the island, and so do I.” 

“I’m happy I included you in the deal Kirby made with Andy. Danae needs you, especially with all that’s going on with your brother. Was he always this wretched?” 

“No,” Darcey said. “We were all very close when we were young. Devin was closer to me than Danae, though. He doesn’t keep in touch, not that I would talk to him anymore. He’s caused too much pain.” 

Rae set her teacup down. “I understand. Would you like another cup, Darcey? The water is still piping hot.” 

She glanced at her watch and pondered the offer. “Oh sure. One more cup might help me mellow out a little more. I’m staying tonight to watch over Nae, just in case she needs me. You’re welcome to go home if you’d like?” 

“I promised Kirby I’d stay and help in any way I can. He should call when he arrives in Dragon Valley. I hope his search is quick and fruitful.” 

Darcey nodded. “Me too. I’ll get the tea, Rae. You sit.” She stood and walked to the kitchen, brought the teakettle in, and filled both cups with hot water. She found two more bags of chamomile and opened them, plopped them into the water, and sat back. “You know, Rae, the suite upstairs is open if you’d like to rest up there.” 

“Oh, I’m okay, Darcey, but thank you. I don’t sleep well when Kirby is away. He is my life, you know.”

Darcey nodded. “I understand. Clint doesn’t travel for business, and I’m thankful. I don’t know how Nae does it with Andy gone so often. They’re inseparable.” 

“Danae is an extraordinary woman. I’ve never met anyone quite like her.” 

“Mmhmm, that she is.” Darcey stirred some honey and squeezed a lemon wedge into her tea. “So, Rae. How did you meet Kirby?” 

Rae blushed. “I was working at a different resort as a housekeeper. I didn’t have education past high school, so cleaning was all I could do. And Kirby saw me one morning while he was walking to the front desk.” She smiled, lost in the memory. “He was on a business trip from Riverview. He told me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. If you asked him, he’d say it was love at first sight. I took a little more convincing.” 

Darcey smiled. “That’s so sweet, Rae. How long did you date?” 

She sipped her tea and shook her head. “We never dated, per se. He got my phone number. He left the island, and I didn’t think of him again. But he never forgot about me. Riverview is far from here. Kirby never would have asked me to leave my family. So he moved everything, gave up his successful restaurant and sold his investment company. He brought it all here to be with me. When he came back, we saw each other twice before he proposed. We eloped three weeks later.”

“Wow!” Darcey set her teacup down and smiled. “I thought Clint and I had a whirlwind romance!”

“We had Corrie and Cody after our fifth anniversary. He wanted some time to establish his business here first. It astonished me when he told me he was an entrepreneur back in Riverview.”

“You didn’t know?”

Rae cocked her head and looked into Darcey’s eyes. “He never mentioned it, and I never thought to ask. He’s so charming that it didn’t matter. I would have followed him anywhere. I went back to school and completed my degree in education. When he bought the stadium and the team, he gave the academy to me to manage. The Accolades Academy has been my benevolence project since my graduation from college. Each year, we give a four-year scholarship for the academy to two needy families on the island. I used to act as principal, but I’ve stepped into an administrator role instead. Now, I oversee the school’s operations, a superintendent of sorts.” 

“Wow, Rae. That’s an incredible story. You’ve had a beautiful life here.” 

“Oh, it hasn’t always been perfect. When the twins were younger, Kirby had problems with alcohol. I spent too many nights at home caring for our family while he was out drinking with the team. Then one night, he nearly killed himself while driving drunk, and I gave him an ultimatum: me or the liquor. He chose me, sobered up, and he hasn’t had more than a beer with Andy and Aaron on a rare occasion.” 

Darcey sat and looked at Rae, in awe of the strength and poise she displayed. “I admire you, Rae.”

Rae blushed again. “I’m just a wife and mother. Kirby is my hero.” 

“Well, you’re both awesome in my book,” Darcey said, and yawned. “As much as I’d love to sit and chat, I’m fighting to stay awake. I’m so sorry.” 

“Don’t be, Darcey. I’ll let you rest, and I’ll sit by the pool. It’s a lovely evening to watch the stars.” Rae picked up both teacups to place into the dishwasher. “Sweet dreams. You deserve it.” 

Darcey settled on the sofa, a pillow under her head. “Thank you, Rae. Let me know if you hear anything.” 

“I will.” Rae walked outside to sit under the stars, praying that Kirby would find Andy.

*****

Kirby retrieved his cell phone before they accessed the airport terminal. Even though it was early in the morning, he promised Rae an update, and this one would please her. 

“Hi doll,” he greeted her. “I have some fantastic news!”

“Did you find Andy, mi amor?” 

“Yes, I did, Rae. We’ll be on our way home soon.” 

Rae’s face beamed with excitement. “Shall I tell Danae for you? I’m here at the house with her and Darcey.” 

“I think she’ll welcome the news, so the sooner, the better.” Victor stood in the jet’s doorway, awaiting their arrival. “Rae, I need to go. Please tell Danae I accomplished my mission, and we’re both coming home.” 

“I will. Be safe, Kirby. I love you more.” 

He chuckled. “Yes, you probably do. I love you, too.” 

Andy and Kirby settled into seats across from one another. They both knew they wouldn’t sleep on this flight back home. It would be an evening to plot and strategize the biggest, most important game either of them had ever played. Victor stood at the table and acknowledged both of them. “What may I get for you, gentlemen?” 

Kirby thought for a moment. “How about my special reserve champagne? This is a glorious occasion.”

“Very well.” Victor turned on his heel and walked away. 

Andy yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Kirby, you are an incredible sleuth. How did you find me so fast?” 

“Not that difficult, to be honest. I don’t recall you saying anything about having friends up here, so I figured that was a dead end. You weren’t sleeping at the airport. So, I figured I’d find you at the only inn.” Kirby snickered. “You used your real name, so you weren’t trying that hard to hide.” 

Andy laughed. “I didn’t figure anyone would come looking for me. I thought I’d stay under the radar until I could get on my feet.”

“You knew I wouldn’t let you slip away without a fight. I can’t run all the intricacies of that team without you.”

“Yeah, it’s all fine and good until we have an away game, Kirby. I can’t go with you. I can’t be in the stadium with the team.”

“Just leave all that up to Tony. Which reminds me, what kind of evidence do you have against Devin Jones? I know you have a bunch of doctored photos attached to his email address. What else do you have?” 

Andy took his laptop from his briefcase, booted it up, and retrieved his email archives. “This one here, Kirby.” He pointed to the email Devin had sent him after Andy fired him. “This one told both Danae and me to watch our backs. That email scared Danae half to death. Lysie and Eamon were little then.”

Kirby wore a horrified expression. “Now that… That takes some guts. He must have known that would bite him in the rear end someday.”

Andy grinned. “It looks like that someday is soon, thanks to you and Tony. I’m sure he didn’t figure I would hang onto stuff like this. I can’t believe my chance to bury him is here.”

“I told you I had your back, Andy. Never doubt me. I’m only nice to people I love. Everyone else is fair game for my wily ways.” He tried to pull off an evil laugh, but the funny face he made had Andy in stitches. When they both stopped laughing, Kirby patted his hand. “It’s good to see you smiling, son. We’re going to beat this. You have my word, because I’m not stopping until we do.”

Victor returned with two chilled flutes filled with sparkling champagne. “Gentlemen.” 

Kirby lifted his glass for a toast. “To you, Andy. Because you’re a champion.” 

“Cheers!” Andy toasted in return. The men clinked the glasses together and sipped. Andy sat back in his seat and smiled.

*****

In the wee hours of the morning, Rae clicked the “End” button on her cell phone. She was the only one awake in the Murphy home. Darcey slept on the sofa. The kids were asleep in their bedrooms, and Danae still rested in the master bedroom. Kirby’s phone call brought the news for which she’d hoped—he’d found Andy and was bringing him home to his family. 

Rae tiptoed into the house to where Darcey rested and tapped her shoulder. “Darcey?” 

She stirred and opened one eye. She didn’t recognize Rae’s voice under the veil of sleep. “Oh, hi Rae.” 

“I’m sorry,” Rae chuckled. “Did I disappoint you?” 

Darcey eked out a sleepy grin. “No, I forgot I stayed here. How’s Nae? Have you heard from Kirby?”

“I just hung up the phone. Kirby found Andy, and they’re both on their way home.” 

“This is awesome news!” 

Rae nodded. “Perhaps you’d like to tell Danae? I think the news would be best coming from you.”

“Thank you. I’d love to give her some good news for a change. Maybe it will soften the bad news about Elyse.” 

Darcey opened the door to the master suite and tiptoed inside. Danae was restless, but sleeping. Darcey sat on the bed with her and touched her shoulder. “Nae? Sweetie, wake up.” 

Danae saw Darcey’s face and her eyes filled with tears. “Hi sissy. I feel like hell.” 

“You won’t when I tell you my news. Kirby found Andy, Nae. They’re both coming home.” 

Danae sat straight up in bed. “Are you serious?!” 

“Yep. They’ll be home in about eight hours, if they make decent time.” 

“I could kiss you!” Danae hugged her sister, weeping happy tears. “My sweetheart is coming home! I thought I’d never see him again. What changed?”

“Kirby had some good news. I’m not sure what.” Darcey was going to tell her about Elyse, but decided against it. “I’m thrilled for you, Nae.” 

“Have you been here since I called you, Darce?” Darcey nodded and yawned. Danae felt guilty. “Go home and get some rest. Aren’t you working in the morning?”

“I’ve already called in sick for the day. I didn’t know if you’d need me.”

“It’s okay, now that I know Andy is coming home. Go home to Clint and the boys. Get some sleep. I’m going to wait in the living room until the kids wake up.” 

“I promised I’d tell Lysie when I knew something about her dad. But, I need to break some bad news.” Darcey sighed. “You won’t like it.” 

“Uh oh… what happened now?”   

“How much do you remember after I got here yesterday afternoon, Nae?”

Danae shook her head. “Not much. All I could feel was pain.”

“Understandable. Well, you were arguing with Elyse when I walked in. Things got ugly, and she left.”

“That doesn’t surprise me in the least. Where did she go?” 

“Eamon thought she might have gone to Howie’s house, so I went looking for her.” Darcey swallowed hard. “Danae, Chris Collins caught them in bed together, half naked. She claims they fell asleep, but she was only wearing a pair of panties when I got to her.” 

Danae inhaled a slow breath and held it for a moment. “Did I just hear you right? My twelve-year-old daughter was in bed with that Collins kid? Half naked?” 

Darcey shook her head, still in her own disbelief. “It didn’t look good, Nae. Chris was furious. I wasn’t much better.” 

“I was hoping to wait a little longer for her purity pledge, but I see it can’t wait. Andy and I need to discuss this soon.” 

“Clint and I have discussed it—we’re still undecided. I don’t envy you, Nae, with two little girls.” 

“I might appreciate how Mama felt with me asking questions all the time,” Danae snickered. “But Elyse doesn’t ask me anything. We need to approach this with her. I don’t need grandbabies with toddlers in the house.” 

Darcey laughed at the irony. “The generational curse works. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Mama mutter under her breath, ‘I hope Danae has a daughter just like her’.” 

“Are you serious? She said that?” 

“Mmhmm,” Darcey said with a grin. “I see it worked.” She looked at her watch and yawned. “I think I’m going to head out, since you’re okay.” The sisters hugged one last time. “If you need me again, never hesitate.” 

“Of course not. I love you, Darce.” 

“I love you, too, Nae. Enjoy Andy when he comes home, because I know you will.” 

“Bet your butt I will.” They laughed and Darcey waved as she left the bedroom. 

Now Danae had another, bigger problem. But for tonight, the good news about Andy would suffice. The rest could wait until after school. She tiptoed into the girls’ room and tapped Elyse’s shoulder. 

“Mama?” She tried to focus through bleary, tired eyes. “Is that you?” 

“Yes, Lysie. I wanted to let you know Daddy is on his way home.”

With a sigh of relief, Elyse whispered, “Good.” 

Danae planted a kiss on her oldest child’s forehead. “Get some more sleep. It’s still early.” 

“Mmhmm,” she said, before the quiet tug of sleep reclaimed her.

*****

Danae was wide awake when Elyse’s alarm sounded a few hours later. The coffee pot was fresh, and breakfast was on the griddle when Eamon dragged himself from his bedroom. 

“Good morning, Eam,” she said with a smile.

“Good morning,” he said, wearing a sleepy grin. “I’m sorry about yesterday, Mama. I didn’t mean to cause trouble for you.” 

She held her arms open for her oldest son. “You’re forgiven, sweetheart. How about a big bear hug?” He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her as tight as he could—she planted a kiss on his cheek. “I love you, Eam. Daddy’s on his way home. I thought you’d like to know.”

“I’m glad Daddy’s coming home, more for you than for me.” 

Danae’s eyes welled with happy tears. “Me too, sweetheart. And it means so much to me to hear you say that.”

Elyse’s bedroom door opened, and she trudged into the living room. Morning came way too soon, and she was still tired. “Good morning, Mama,” she said with a yawn.

“Good morning, sweet pea. Come get some breakfast. Cakes are fresh.” She and Eamon sat at the island counter, and Danae served them both a stack of banana pancakes. She couldn’t believe her two oldest were almost teenagers, one of them in desperate need of a purity pledge. 

The house that morning was the polar opposite of the previous morning. The children were in a decent mood. Teddy and Tessa still slept, and Danae sang cheerful love songs while she puttered. Andy was on a private jet bound for the island, and she couldn’t wait to see him. Yes, she thought. I’ll take today over yesterday any time.

The school bus arrived at its usual time. As she did each morning, Danae walked them both to the door. Before she could leave, Danae took Elyse’s arm and looked into her eyes. “Come straight home from school today. No ballet. Do you understand me?” 

Elyse swallowed hard. “Yes, Mama.” 

“I don’t think I need to tell you why. I’m going to speak with your father about what you did, and we will decide how to handle it. Until then, consider yourself grounded from all after-school activities, especially ballet.” 

“Yes, Mama.” 

Danae kissed her forehead. “Have a good day, sweet pea. I love you.” 

“I love you, too.” She said nothing more before she left. 

Two hours later, Darcey knocked on the front door. Danae cocked her head at her sister standing there. “Darce?” 

“I’m getting the twins for a playdate, since I have the day to myself. I need some baby time.” 

Danae knew the real reason her sister was there. She hugged Darcey and whispered in her ear. “Thank you!”

Darcey gave her a knowing look. “Have all the fun, Nae. You deserve it.” 

Twenty minutes later, Darcey’s SUV pulled away from the house, her three-year-old biological children in their car seats. She hadn’t thought of them that way since they were born. To her, Tessa and Teddy were her niece and nephew, but she sure loved to spoil them. 

Danae hopped into the shower, dressed in the skimpiest negligee she owned, and waited on the sofa for Andy’s return home.

*****

Hours later, Andy’s key turned in the front door of the house. Complete silence welcomed him home—no children giggling, no television, no bustle of a busy wife. He set his bag in his office and took off his sport coat. He tiptoed into the living room and found Danae, sound asleep on the sofa, dressed in a sexy outfit, looking like she was expecting him. Andy smiled, but felt the pangs of guilt biting at him. He couldn’t imagine what he’d put her through. 

He sat on the floor by her face and laid his head next to hers. His breath slowed to match hers; the scent of apples perfumed her hair, and he breathed it in. It was something he believed he’d never do again just twenty-four hours ago. The soft sensation of his fingers on her skin awakened her, and when she saw his face, she smiled. Without saying a word, she nuzzled her face into his. 

“Hi sweetheart,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, Nae. I’m sorry I left, that I put you through hell. All of it was so unnecessary. I feel terrible.” A single tear formed in the corner of his eye and rolled down his cheek. He hated to cause her pain, and he’d done so much more than his share over their fourteen year marriage.

“None of that matters anymore. You’re home.”

“You’re way too forgiving, baby.” He shook his head. No, he wouldn’t let her forgive him this easily. Not this time. He’d hurt her too much, too deep. He was about to speak when he felt her mouth on his in a passionate kiss.

Danae’s hungry kisses consumed him. She savored the taste of him, the sweetness of his kiss. When she pulled away, she looked into his caramel brown eyes, and her heart melted. How she loved that man. 

“You’re all I want, Andy. For the rest of my life. No one else. Do you understand that?” Another soft kiss, then she bit her lip. “I don’t care what the circumstances are, babe. You’re the only one I want.”

Andy looked away from her, ashamed of himself. “I don’t deserve you, Danae. I will never deserve you.” 

“Shh,” she whispered, and kissed him again. “Are you gonna keep talking, or are you gonna take me to bed?” 

Without saying another word, Andy stood, lifted her off the sofa, and carried her into their bedroom.

*****

Elyse carried her backpack to her locker and grabbed a smaller bag with clothes in it. Howie was right behind her.

“Hi beautiful,” was his standard greeting.

Elyse sighed and closed her locker. “Hi, Howie.”

“What? No kiss?” 

“I’m in so much trouble. I’m not in the mood.” 

“Well, I am, too. But that doesn’t stop me from loving you, Lysie.” 

She shook her head. “You don’t get it, do you? I’m grounded from ballet! I have to go right home today after school.” 

He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. “I’m sure you don’t. Everything will be normal soon.” 

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She pushed away from him. “You really don’t get it. I have to go home with Eam on that bus. If I don’t show up, I’m making it worse for myself. I want to dance again someday, Howie. It’s all I want.” 

“Psh,” Howie said, and rolled his eyes. “Your dad will let you dance. Aren’t you his favorite? Besides, what happened last night was no big deal. We’re best friends first, and boyfriend-girlfriend second. Everyone knows that.” 

“My aunt didn’t see it that way. I got ‘the talk’ last night. My mom told me to come right home after school. My dad will be home later today, and I don’t want to face him. Howie, I’m legit afraid of my dad. I’m even more afraid of disappointing him, and I know I did.” 

Howie rolled his eyes again. “Psh. He’s not gonna hurt you! Sometimes, I wish I had your folks. My dad isn’t the kindest man to live with, you know.”

“I know.” Elyse had witnessed Chris Collins’ brand of discipline firsthand twice, and it frightened her. She was grateful that Andy never made a move to strike her, not one time.

“What will you do without ballet?” 

“I haven’t thought about it yet. I’m still going to practice. There’s a barre in the garage my dad set up for me.”

“Well,” he said, “we have gym class right now. Why don’t we take advantage of it?” 

“Ballet?”

He gave her a sly smile. “What do you think?” 

Elyse nodded and took his hand as they walked to their spot under the bleachers.

*****

In the afterglow of a beautiful afternoon together, Andy laid with Danae wrapped around him. Her head on his chest, her body rose and fell with his breathing. His fingers touched her shoulders—her soft giggles broke the silence. 

“That tickles,” she whispered. 

“I know it does. Why else would I do it?” 

“I’d expect nothing less.” 

He felt her snuggle closer, her leg wrapped around his. “I know I wasn’t away long, but I missed you so much.” 

“I missed you too. Things were rough yesterday after you left. Darcey ran everything here.” Danae clenched her jaw. She dreaded her next words. “Which reminds me, Andy, I have something to discuss with you. I don’t think it can wait much longer.” He felt her draw a breath and hold it. 

“What is it, honey?” He kissed her forehead and brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes. 

“Elyse and I had a rough day yesterday. It started before she and Eamon left for school, and I guess after she got home, Darcey tried to set her straight, but she ran off.” 

Andy growled, and his body tensed up. He didn’t like getting negative reports about his kids. “Where’d she run off to, Nae?” 

“Howie’s house on the north isle. Darcey went looking for her after Eamon tipped her off.” She looked into his eyes and caressed his cheek, hoping to soften the blow of her next words. “Chris Collins found them in his bedroom, Andy. They were in bed together, half naked.”

Andy clenched his jaw and spoke through his teeth. “How did Collins allow this?! It’s up to him to make sure nothing happens under his roof!”

“Lysie claims they fell asleep together, but Darcey said she was only wearing her underwear when she found her.”

“What should we do, Nae? She is too young for this.”

“Her birthday is coming up in a month. At first, I wasn’t sure about the purity pledge. But I am now. What do you think?” 

Andy nodded in agreement. “Would you come with me? I don’t know how to approach it.”

Danae smiled at him. “You know I will, babe. Expect her to be embarrassed, especially discussing sex in a public setting. I know Darcey and I were when Daddy took us for our date.” 

“What do I tell her? I mean, how do I say this to her?”

She kissed his chest and ran her fingers through the curly hair. “Just present the ring, and tell her you’d like her to promise to wait. That she’ll wear the ring on her left hand until it’s replaced by her wedding ring.” She nuzzled into his side, his hand reaching down to stroke her messy hair. “It’s really that simple.” 

“You know what else is really simple, Nae?” Andy squirmed under her soft touch. 

“Mmm,” she sighed. “What’s really simple?” 

“How much I love you.”

“And how much is that, babe?” She winked at him with expectation.

“Here,” he said with a sexy growl. “Let me show you.”

*****

After school, Elyse opened the front door of the house, Eamon right behind her. “Mama said he’d be home today, Eam. I hope she wasn’t lying.” 

“Mom isn’t a liar, Lysie. If she said it, he’s home.”

“His car isn’t in the garage. How can I be sure?” 

Eamon rolled his eyes. “Don’t believe her, I guess? When has she ever lied to you?” 

Elyse huffed. “She hasn’t. But still…” 

The door to the master suite opened, and Andy stood in it, waiting for the joyful sounds of his children. And as he expected, Eamon and Elyse squealed. “Daddy!”

He opened his arms for them and squeezed them both in a bear hug. “I’m sorry about yesterday, kids. My rough day shouldn’t have affected you like it did. The good news is, I’m home and I’m not leaving again. Ever.” 

Both kids cried happy tears, but Elyse wouldn’t let him go. “I missed you, Daddy,” she cried over and over. 

Eamon pulled away from the hug and stepped back, letting Elyse have Andy all to herself. She wept on his shoulder, and Eamon was sure it was because she knew how much trouble she’d created for herself. “I’m glad you’re home, Dad,” he said. “But I need to start my homework. I have more than usual.”

“Thanks son,” Andy said. “Lysie, I want to talk to you.” He kissed her forehead. “This is not open for debate. Your mama and I have things to discuss with you about yesterday.” 

Elyse cried harder. “No, Daddy. Please?” 

“I’m sorry. Non-negotiable.” He took her by the wrist and hung onto her. “Eam, if you need us, we’re in the bedroom with your sister.” Elyse tried to pull against him, but he tugged her. “Come, Elyse.”

“I don’t want to!” 

“I’m sorry about your luck, young lady. But you can’t pull stuff like you did yesterday with no consequences.” Andy picked her up over his shoulder and held her. Elyse screamed and fought him, slamming her fists into Andy’s back. He carried her into the bedroom and locked the door behind him. “You will not run from me if you know what’s good for you, Elyse.” Danae waited on the bench for them. Andy plopped her down next to her mother and then sat beside her, making a pre-teen sandwich with parental bread. 

“Daddy—” she started, but Andy’s scowl stopped her. 

“Who do you think you are? You will never hit me like that again!” Andy was irate. 

“I’m sorry,” she cried. 

“You’re making things harder for yourself, Elyse,” Danae said. 

“I’m scared!”

“You don’t have to be frightened, but you’re not getting away without punishment, either!” Andy stood and paced the floor. “Don’t even try to get past me. You’re just going to extend your penalty if you do.” 

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Elyse sobbed. “It wasn’t what it looked like!” 

“Then why don’t you tell me what it was? From what Aunt Darcey said, you were almost naked with Howie Collins in his bed. Is this not true?” 

Elyse huffed a lock of hair from her face. “Well, when you say it like that—”

Andy made a move to strike her, but restrained himself when he saw her flinch. “Now’s not the time to get smart with me, Elyse. Now is your chance to make a case for leniency. So, I’m going to ask you again. Were you half naked in Howie’s bed with him? Yes, or no?”

“Well, yes, but we were only sleeping!” 

“What’s your definition of ‘only sleeping,’ Elyse? Were you touching each other? Kissing?”

Elyse rolled her eyes. “We had our eyes closed, he cuddled up behind me. I was wearing his shirt and my panties, and he had on boxer shorts and a muscle shirt. We. Were. ASLEEP!” she yelled. 

Andy closed his eyes and counted to ten. “You will not take that tone with me, Elyse. You just keep making things harder for yourself.”

“Why doesn’t anyone believe me? We were sleeping!” Danae heard frustration in her daughter’s voice. 

“Lysie, you don’t understand the situation you put yourself in with Howie. You are too young to have this type of relationship with him!” Danae tried to reason with her. She felt more like she was talking to a brick wall instead of a thinking twelve-year-old girl.

“Howie and I are just friends! Why can’t you get that through your thick skulls?” Elyse bit her tongue the second she said it. Andy had heard enough. He reached for her, picked her up to meet his eyes, and looked straight into hers. 

“You’re grounded for a month. No ballet, no Howie. No after-school activities until further notice. You will NOT disrespect me or your mother like this, Elyse! Go to your room. NOW!” The veins in his neck bulged as he spoke to her. He couldn’t recall ever being this angry. He hoped he’d never get there again. 

“I HATE YOU!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, and ran from the bedroom. Andy heard the front door open and close, and he raced after her. Danae wept, still seated on the bench. 

The locked gate stopped Elyse after Danae jammed the code from her cell phone. It gave Andy the chance he needed to catch her. He picked her up and carried her back into the house and to her bedroom, plopped her on the bed, and paced the floor. 

“Elyse, what has gotten into you? Why are you like this?” Andy bent over, trying to catch his breath. He hadn’t needed to run like that in years, and he got winded.

She shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno.” 

“I’m losing my patience with you, little girl. You need to learn who’s in charge. You are much too young to be with a boy Howie’s age. Fifteen-year-old boys only want one thing, Elyse. I’ll be damned if he’s going to get that from MY daughter!”

“That’s not your decision, Daddy—”

“As long as you live under MY roof, and I buy your clothing, food, and everything else you want and need, it’s ALL my decision. Are we clear on this? You will go to school every day. You will come home right after school. Your teachers and the principal will be my eyes and ears at the Academy. Don’t think school is your safe zone. Howie is not to come within five feet of you. Do you understand me, Elyse?” 

Elyse was sobbing, positive her father was bent on ruining her life. “Yes,” she huffed, and cried harder. 

Andy sat down on her bed and patted the spot next to him. Though she didn’t want to, she sat beside him. “Lysie, I don’t enjoy punishing you like this. I’d much rather do pleasant things for you. And sweetheart, I don’t want to see you ruin the rest of your life before you hit thirteen. You’re getting into territory where only grown-ups should go.”

“I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal, Daddy. We were only sleeping.” 

“Well, that’s part of a talk best saved for your first date with me.” He took her hands and rubbed her fingers between his. “I want to teach you things that only I can, sweet pea. From a man’s perspective. Remember, I was a fifteen-year-old boy at one time. I know how they think. Howie has little to lose, but you, sweetheart? You could ruin your future in one careless night. You’re smarter than this, Elyse. Please act like it.” 

“I want to be alone,” she whispered. “Please leave my room?” 

Andy nodded. “Just so you know, your windows don’t open, so don’t attempt an escape. It won’t work.” He chuckled when she growled in frustration. “If you have homework, Lysie, get on it.” 

She didn’t say another word.


Two Weeks Later

With Andy on administrative leave from the team, he had time to find and organize his abundant evidence against Devin Jones. At two in the morning, the light still burned in his office. Danae walked from the bedroom into the living room and discovered Andy at his desk, his nose buried in his laptop. She tapped on the door, and when he saw her, he waved her in. 

“Hi sweetheart,” he said. “What are you doing up so late?” 

“I could ask you the same question.” She sat down in the chair opposite him and yawned. “What are you working on?” 

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He tapped a few keys and turned the screen. “Remember this email?” 

The header still made her skin crawl. “That email gave me nightmares for months.” 

He opened up the email to print. “This is one of many things I have that I’ll use as evidence of your brother’s vendetta against me.” He cringed and opened the email from Wyatt, one that he’d forwarded ten years prior. “And there’s this one, with all those pictures attached to it. I’d be willing to bet your brother doesn’t know I have them, either. If he wasn’t a dead ringer for your dad, I’d wonder if Devin was part of the family.” 

Danae snorted. “Darce and I have said the same thing often.”

The printer behind him on the credenza fired up, printing page after page of emails, photos, and other evidence that Devin had been trying to ruin Andy’s life. Documentation from his knee injury and subsequent surgery. Sworn statements he’d collected from Aaron and Wyatt prior to their transfer to the island. He even found an old email from Smitty, with evidence he had collected. 

“Well, this should be everything that’s easy to collect. The photos, well, I’d rather not share those unless it’s mandatory. Kirby filed his appeal last week, and my hearing with a new mediation team will be soon.” Andy took the stack of over twenty pages of additional evidence from the printer and stuck them inside his briefcase. 

“What’s Tony’s role in all of this, babe?” 

“Kirby says he has originals of the rules and regulations from the league from the past thirty years. He’s an avid fan, and he collects things like that, I guess. His law firm is the oldest on the island, and they’ve been representing the Sharks for decades, even before Kirby owned them.”

“I think I understand,” she said, and nodded. “With his original copies of the older rules, you intend to prove your clause was valid when you wrote it.” 

“That’s right. There were no rules ten years ago that stated my clause was illegal. The personal grudge is a bonus. Maybe this will stop your brother, maybe it won’t. But if I get my job back and I’m reinstated, that’s all I care about. Although it would be nice to get him out of a position of power. Fiona, too. She wields too much power and holds too many personal grievances to be an effective commissioner.” 

“That’s an understatement.” Danae recalled Aaron’s year-long battle with Fiona over ten years of plays. “Kirby does what he promises, though. He stood behind Aaron and fought like a cornered animal for him. I know he won’t quit until you’re restored as manager.”

Andy took a sip of water from a glass on his desk. “Kirby has been a formidable ally through this entire process. I hope, though, this is the end of the investigations. There’s no one left to scrutinize but Kirby himself, and he’s pretty untouchable. I mean, he owns the franchise. He does everything by the book.” 

“He has the best manager in the country by his side, babe. That has to help.” She took his hands and kissed his fingers. 

Andy gave her a sly smile. “Flattery will get you everywhere, you little vixen.” 

“Oh, that wasn’t flattery, babe. I meant every word.” She sucked on the tip of his index finger. She drove him wild when she did that, every time.

“Want to come to bed with me?”

Danae nodded her head. “What do you think, sexy man?”

Andy stood and scooped her out of the chair where she sat—Danae giggled and squealed as he carried her away to their bedroom.


Two Weeks Later

Kirby walked into the courtroom in downtown Isla Paradiso, loaded for bear and ready to defeat Fiona Jones and her insufferable husband. Tony, who was just behind him, met Kirby in front, then set down his briefcase and a box of files. They shook hands before they sat.

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“Are you prepared, Tony? We have to win this appeal.” Kirby was cautious, but optimistic. “You know I have every confidence in you.” 

Tony flashed his winning smile. “Of course we’re ready! I have the books and the files I need to show that Fiona has altered the rules to suit her purpose, and all of Andy’s evidence. And, you have me on your team. Not to be full of myself, but I’m a rather excellent attorney.”

Kirby smiled. “It’s good you insisted on holding the hearing here instead of in a mediation room. This should keep the chicanery to a minimum.”

“Well, be aware she and Jones will try, but I have every contingency planned.” Tony glanced at his watch and then back to Kirby. “Is Andy running late?” 

“He should be here any moment. He’s nervous, so there’s a good chance he won’t feel like his normal, witty self.”

Tony chuckled. “He has nothing to worry about. My defense is so watertight, it squeaks.”

Kirby laughed out loud. “That’s pretty watertight!” They settled down at the table and waited for Andy to arrive, which he did three minutes later.

“Gentlemen,” he greeted them with handshakes and a smile. Andy knew the stakes were higher than they’d ever been, but he also felt confident. Tony had coached him, and together, they spent hours pouring over the evidence he had collected against Devin for the past twelve years. It was time for Jones to burn like the dumpster fire he had become. Andy couldn’t wait.

“How are you feeling, Andy?” Tony asked him. 

“I feel like a winner.” He said it more to convince himself than anything else.

“Good! That’s how you should feel, because you’re leaving here reinstated and employed. You have my word.” Tony gave him a quick hug, and both men sat. 

Fiona and Devin Jones entered the courtroom next, with her team of pre-chosen mediators. Tony was on his feet in an instant, waving his finger at Fiona. 

“Oh no! You’re not pulling your tricks today, Commissioner! We are not using your mediators.” 

“You have zero influence here, sir. This is League business—” Fiona said, but Tony interrupted her.

“I represent Anduin Murphy. An impartial judge will hear this case and decide, not your hand-picked, sympathetic mediation team.”

“That was not the condition set forth by the appeal—”

“On the contrary, Commissioner. The appeal stated where the hearing would take place, which you read. It stated that I would represent the defendant, and that a neutral third party would preside. Did you not read your copy in its entirety?” 

Fiona huffed. “Appeals are standard, so no. But since we’re on your turf, have it your way, Mr…?” 

“Cardona. Antonio Cardona, Esquire.” He offered his hand for Fiona to shake, but she snubbed him.

“Should I be impressed?” she snipped.

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“You can let me know later, Madam Commissioner.” Tony smirked and walked back to the defense table. 

Kirby saw the smile on Tony’s face. “What was that all about?”

“Kirbs, this will be a cakewalk! She never read the details of the appeal. She expects Andy to roll over and accept his fate. Fiona Jones will get the shock of her life here today.” Tony sat down and patted Andy on the back. “Don’t worry, Andy. You’re walking out of here victorious.”

Before the proceedings began, Danae and Rae walked through the door together. From the spectator area, Danae rubbed Andy’s shoulders and kissed the top of his head. 

“Hi, baby,” he said, and swiveled his chair to see her. “I didn’t expect you here. Who has the twins?” 

“Trix is taking care of them, so I could come to support you. Stephanie and Tessa love to play together.” She gave his shoulder a quick but gentle squeeze. “You’re going to win this, you know. Knock ‘em dead, babe.” 

He stood and took her hand to kiss. “It means everything to me you’re here. Thank you.” 

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“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this!” One last quick kiss, and she took her seat next to Rae. 

With the league mediators seated in the jury section, Fiona and Devin took their places. The judge appeared from his chambers moments later and began the hearing that would decide Andy’s fate. The judge swore everyone in and banged his gavel to start the proceedings.

Fiona stood to present her case. “In the matter of the Professional Soccer League versus Anduin Murphy—”

“That’s ‘Football,’ Madam Commissioner,” Tony corrected. “It’s called ‘football’ here on the island.” 

Fiona scowled at him. “The appeal of decision number two-four-nine-three-four, the Professional Football League versus Anduin Murphy.” She glanced at Tony and frowned. “Is that better, Esquire?” she asked in a biting tone.

Tony grinned ear to ear. 

She continued. “In reviewing Mr. Murphy’s past contracts, the League directors and I have discovered multiple additions to documents that are not valid according to league standards. These addenda render void all contracts containing the clause; thus, all players with such contracts are free agents, and violate Section Four, Part Twelve of the league rules. Mr. Murphy is the guarantor of all said contracts and is therefore subject to penalty as set forth by the Commissioner—permanent expulsion from the League without pay or benefits.” Fiona took her chair when she finished. 

Tony stood, a stack of books containing the rules and bylaws of the League, on the table in front of him. “Your Honor,” he began, “I intend to show today that, not only did Mr. Anduin Murphy do nothing wrong with the specified contracts, but that there is a personal animus against Mr. Murphy by the Commissioner and her husband, Devin Jones. I maintain he was within League rules when he signed the original contracts. I intend to prove such.” He walked to where the mediators sat and turned his attention to them. “Mr. Murphy is not guilty of the violations of which the League has accused him, and I will seek reinstatement to his previous position of Team Manager.” He bowed his head and looked at the judge. “Your Honor.” 

Fiona stood again, the copies of Andy’s contracts in her hand. “Your Honor, I wish to submit these as evidence, along with a hard copy of the Rules and Regulations. You will see the obvious violation of standards by Mr. Murphy, highlighted in yellow.” 

The judge took the paperwork from Fiona and perused the contents. “Mr. Cardona? Do you have a rebuttal to this?” 

Tony stood, confident. He held the original copy of the Rules and Regulations book from the stated time period. “Your Honor, I wish to submit this book as evidence. This is the original book of Rules and Regulations from ten years ago. In it, you will find no clause that prohibits a team manager, or anyone else, from paying out benefits to a contract beneficiary. In fact, Your Honor, on the Commissioner’s copy, you will find a revision date. What is that date?” 

The judge compared the two sets of rules. “One was revised six months ago; the other, not since the original vote. The latter is the one you submitted, Mr. Cardona.” 

“When was the original infraction discovered in the contract, Madam Commissioner?” 

Fiona felt the blood drain from her face. To stall him, she shuffled papers around, searching for the answer she already knew. 

“Madam Commissioner? We’re waiting for an answer,” said the judge. 

She stood, her head lowered. “Five months ago, Your Honor.” 

“Isn’t it true, Madam Commissioner, that you revised the rules yourself in order to trap Mr. Murphy in a contract violation? Isn’t it true, Mr. Jones, that YOU’VE had enmity toward Mr. Murphy for the past twelve years? Isn’t it also true that this personal animosity played a large role in the decision to revise said rules and regulations?” 

The accusations, while true, had Fiona flustered. Devin looked at her and motioned her to him. They whispered among themselves for a moment, and Fiona looked at the judge. 

“This is a total fabrication! Outright lies!” Fiona blurted out. 

“Be careful, Madam Commissioner. I don’t tolerate lies in this courtroom,” the judge spoke. “May I remind you, you are under oath.”  

She knew Tony outsmarted her on the rules, but she was positive he could never prove that her husband held a grudge against Andy Murphy. The evidence didn’t exist. Devin had assured her. 

Tony stood, his posture displayed confidence. “I would like to call Anduin Murphy to the witness stand, Your Honor.” 

The judge nodded. “Mr. Murphy, I’d like to remind you that you’re under oath.” Andy returned his nod and sat on the judge’s left side. 

Tony approached the witness stand. “Sir, please state your name for the court?” 

“Anduin Rowan Murphy.”

“And, Mr. Murphy, are you related to the plaintiff?” 

Andy nodded. “Yes. Mr. Jones is my wife’s brother.”

“What is the nature of your relationship with Mr. Jones?” 

Andy clenched his teeth and wished Danae weren’t there. “Tense. Hostile. My wife is afraid of him. I have permanent scarring and injury in my knee from an unprovoked attack during a game in Starlight Shores.” 

The judge looked at Devin. “You attacked him? You are fortunate he didn’t press charges, Mr. Jones.” 

Devin only shrugged. 

Tony paced the floor in front of the witness stand. “So, Mr. Murphy, would you say that Mr. Jones is a danger to you and your family?” 

Andy paused, took a deep breath, and exhaled. “If Danae fears him, then I will do everything in my power to keep him away from her and my children. I won’t take any chances with my family.” He clasped his hands together. “He is brazen enough to attack me in the open. I don’t know what he would do when he thinks no one is watching him.”

The judge nodded in agreement. “I can’t say whereas I blame you, Mr. Murphy. Any further questions, Mr. Cardona?” 

“Just one more, Your Honor. Mr. Murphy, how long has Mr. Jones held this grudge against you?” 

Andy held his breath for a moment to think, sat up in his seat, and shook his head. “When I worked for Mrs. Jones at the Starlight Shores Llamas, Mr. Jones had several conduct violations against him, and I terminated his position on the team. That is when all of this began.” 

“No more questions,” Tony announced. The judge motioned to Andy, and he took his seat next to Kirby.

Fiona stood. “This is ridiculous! You can’t prove any of your allegations, Mr. Cardona!”

Tony spoke once again. A wry smile pulled his face. “Your Honor, I would like to submit these emails sent by Mr. Devin Jones to Sharks’ Center Midfielder Wyatt Searcy. You will find these documents applicable to this case.”

Devin’s jaw dropped open. Fiona glared at him, sat beside him, and yanked on his arm. “What does he have, Devin?! You swore to me there was no evidence!” 

Devin shrugged and lied to her. “I don’t know what he’s talking about, Fi!” 

She grumbled under her breath, stewing over the blatant lies Devin piled on top of her. “Do NOT talk to me!” she growled. 

The judge looked through the papers that Tony had submitted. “There are photos with this email?” he asked, and Tony nodded. “I’d like to see them.” 

Andy’s body stiffened as he gripped the arms of his chair. But Kirby reached and squeezed his arm. “It’s okay,” Kirby whispered. “Tony has the intimate parts censored. The judge only needs to see intent, not the actual photo.” 

“I was hoping we’d be able to save Danae from that humiliation, Kirby. She’s had more than enough.” Andy rubbed his temples with his thumbs, turned around, and saw Danae wipe tears from her eyes. He mouthed the words, “I’m sorry,” to her. All he wanted was to hold and comfort her. 

Tony presented the photos to the judge, and said, “I’d like to call Wyatt Searcy to the witness stand, Your Honor.” 

Tony’s announcement shocked Andy, who spun around to see his best friend smiling at him. Wyatt, who slipped into the courtroom undetected, was a surprise witness for Andy. Fiona’s angry gaze met Tony, and she objected.

“What is HE doing here?” Fiona growled.

Tony walked to the plaintiff’s table. “Mr. Searcy has some pertinent information about this case, and that email in particular. His testimony will apply to the topic at hand.” 

The judge swore Wyatt in, and he took his seat on the judge’s left side. Tony approached him. 

“Sir, please state your name for the court?” 

“Wyatt Eugene Searcy.” 

“And Mr. Searcy, what is your relationship to the defendant?” Tony asked him.

Wyatt smiled and leaned forward to speak into the microphone. “Andy and I go back to Starlight Shores. He was the first real friend I had in the Shores after my transfer from Appaloosa Plains. He recruited me to the Sharks team after he moved here. Andy’s my best friend in the entire world.”

Tony smiled. “Please tell me about the email in question, Mr. Searcy. When did you receive it from the plaintiff, and under what circumstances?”

Wyatt cleared his throat. “When Lionel O’Reilly owned the Llamas and still lived, his locker room policy was simple: No talkin’ garbage about anyone’s family. Period. If they weren’t there to defend themselves, they were off-limits. But Devin, uhm, I mean Mr. Jones, loved to talk about his sisters, both Danae and Darcey, like they were women of ill-repute.” Wyatt blushed. “Well, those were my cousins he’s talkin’ about, and I don’t take too kindly to people pickin’ on innocent womenfolk, either.”

“Anyway, a rumor started around the locker room about the time Andy and Danae moved from the city, that Devin had some naked pictures of Danae cheatin’ on Andy.” Wyatt hung his head, breaking eye contact with Devin Jones. “Well, at first I didn’t believe him, because I know Miss Danae loves her husband. We went back and forth over whether them pictures were real, and I told him I doubted him. So I asked him for the proof.” He paused for a moment. “His email arrived that night. I only ever saw one picture. But it was enough.”

Tony paced the floor in front of the witness stand. “So, you approached Mr. Murphy with the email and photos, Mr. Searcy?” 

Wyatt shook his head. “No, sir. At first, I confronted Danae, because the photo I saw was pretty convincing. I wanted to know if they were real. That was the weekend we were here for negotiations, Aaron and me. Andy was so angry I had ‘em, but when I explained why, he forwarded the mail to his own address to keep.”

“And why did Mr. Murphy want to keep these photos of his wife, Mr. Searcy?”

Wyatt grinned. “Andy knew Devin was spreadin’ lies about his wife, but he could do nothin’ about it. He wanted proof that everything Devin was doin’ was false, made up. Not true. He had a bunch of us watching Devin, collecting evidence for him. The pictures, I reckon, were the most helpful of everything we gathered.”

Tony winked at Wyatt. “Thank you, Mr. Searcy. I have no further questions.” 

The judge dismissed Wyatt from the witness stand and then stood. “I’m taking time to review the emails and photos. The court will take a ten minute recess,” he announced. With the bang of a gavel, he retired to his chambers, Andy’s evidence in his hands. 

Ten minutes later, the judge returned from his chambers, still holding the paperwork both parties had submitted. He sat down, cleared his throat, and spoke. 

“With the evidence I’ve received from both parties, and considering Mr. Searcy’s and Mr. Murphy’s testimonies, I believe it’s obvious there was personal animosity toward the defendant. I believe it’s fair to conclude this conflict was the sole reason the contract violations occurred. On the same note, it’s also fair to conclude the Commissioner revised the rules to trap the defendant in said violations. Do you have any other evidence against Mr. Murphy, Madam Commissioner?” 

Fiona shook her head in utter defeat. “No, Your Honor.” 

“Mr. Cardona, I rule in favor of your client, Mr. Anduin Murphy. I recommend his immediate reinstatement in his former position with the Isla Paradiso Sharks, with full reimbursement of lost wages, paid by the League Commissioner.”

The judge turned to Fiona. “Madam Commissioner, you have committed grievous offenses against the Professional Football League with your biased judgments. I will recommend to the Board of Directors they scrutinize and punish your actions since assuming your role as Commissioner, according to your misconduct, up to and including removal from your position—”

“With all due respect, Your Honor, you have no jurisdiction over League business—” Fiona said, but the judge interrupted her with the bang of his gavel. 

“Madam Commissioner, I am surprised you don’t yet recognize me. I sit on the League’s Board of Directors, and to be frank, I outrank you. I have every right to suggest your reprimand to the Board.” 

Fiona stood and pointed her finger at the judge. “Yours must have been the missing vote! Your Honor, this was no impartial judgment, and I demand a—” 

“Madam Commissioner, you will not disrespect me in my courtroom, or I will hold you in contempt. You’re treading on thin ice.” Fiona sat back in her seat, her arms folded and an angry scowl on her face.

The judge turned his attention to Devin. “Mr. Jones, effective today, you will not come within ten feet of Anduin Murphy. You will not contact Mrs. Murphy or any of her children. Those photos of your sister are shameful, and it’s clear you have psychological issues. Get some professional help. Are we clear on this, Mr. Jones?” 

Devin took a deep breath, glared at Fiona, then at Andy—his gaze shifted back to the judge. “Yes, Your Honor.” 

“If there are no further objections, I adjourn this hearing,” the judge announced.

Andy stood, feeling an enormous weight lifted from his shoulders. Kirby embraced him in a tight hug. “Congratulations, though I never doubted the outcome. Your car is in the parking lot. I drove it here to give it back.” Kirby dangled on his finger the key to the car Andy had returned four weeks earlier—his brand new Bugatti Chiron. “Welcome back home, son.”

“Kirby, thank you for never giving up. The nightmare is over.” Danae stood, waiting to congratulate him. When he saw her, he kissed and hugged her to him and whispered into her ear, “Baby, I’m so sorry about those pictures—”

“Shh, it’s okay,” she whispered back. “They helped you win this case today. Besides, it looks like we’re finished with Devin.”

He brushed a stray lock of hair from her face and kissed her again. “You’re still way too forgiving.” 

She smiled. “Only you, babe. I’ll never forgive my brother. He is a sick man.”

“He is, but it’s over. All of it. Tony has the restraining papers issued by the court for us to sign, and it’s done. No more Devin, baby.” 

Andy felt a strong tap on his shoulder, and when he looked up, Tony stood, waiting for a handshake. “You did it, Andy. Good job.” 

“Thank YOU, Tony. I couldn’t have done any of this without your guidance and coaching. I owe you my life.” 

“It’s my job. Congratulations!” Tony took Andy’s hand and shook it with a firm grip. “Kirby knew something was shady when he called me. I’m glad he brought you home so we could make this right.” 

“Thanks, Tony. Me too.” Danae sidled up to Andy and took his arm. “Are you ready to go, my sweet?” 

Danae smiled and nodded. “Let’s go home and celebrate.” 

In the excitement and commotion, Fiona and Devin slipped from the courtroom unnoticed.

*****

Devin Jones stormed out of the courthouse door, livid that his last chance to give Anduin Murphy a final, metaphorical “bird” had slipped through his fingers. His wife, Fiona, was on his heels, just as angry. 

“What the hell was THAT back there?” Devin screamed at her. “You should have made this foolproof!”

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“YOU ruined everything with those emails, you idiot! What were you thinking?” Fiona growled back.

“Murphy shouldn’t have had that email and the pictures, Fi!” He slammed his fist into his open hand. “I sent those to Searcy in strict confidence!”

“You’re not very sharp, are you?! Searcy and Murphy are best friends! What made you think Wyatt would keep them to himself? And what kind of freak takes naked pictures of his sister, anyway? You’re a sick man, Devin.”

“Hey, I didn’t take those pictures! I just edited them. It was part of a bigger plan.” 

“Yeah? How’d that work out for you? You don’t think past the end of the week! I’m surprised it’s taken you this long to fail.”

“Well, you’ve failed me in every way, you useless bitch.” Devin spat on the ground near her feet.

“What did you just call me?” she snarled at him. 

“You heard me, woman.” His hateful gaze met hers. “You’re a complete waste of my time.” 

“I wasn’t expecting Kemp’s lawyer to be that on top of things. How was I supposed to know he had the originals of those books?!” Fiona paced outside the courthouse in the parking lot. It didn’t matter that the press were everywhere, catching the biggest story in the country. 

“You ask questions, genius!” Devin paced the ground in front of her. “You had one job, Fi, and that was Murphy’s demise! Why do you think I helped you become commissioner?”

Fiona looked at him in shock. “Oh, my goodness! You were just… using me?” The awful realization hung over her head.

“Well, look who figured out the obvious. Congratulations, stupid.”

“You contemptible son-of-a—” She planted her knee into his groin and put him on the ground. “I gave up a happy marriage for you!” 

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Devin fell to his knees, retching from pain. “Yeah, about that. You shouldn’t have left Cael.” 

“How could you, Devin?! I fell in love with you!” 

“There’s no such thing as love, Fi. You used me as much as I used you. We were together for one reason, and love wasn’t it.” Devin struggled to his feet. “You’ll hear from my lawyer. It’s a good thing my pre-nup is solid.” 

“Devin, please…” Fiona fell to her knees. “Please don’t leave me here like this!” 

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“Yeah, don’t call me. Goodbye, Fiona.” Devin straightened up his suit, dug the keys from his pocket, and walked to the car. He backed out from the lot and spun his tires before he drove away, leaving Fiona in a crumpled, sobbing heap in front of the courthouse.

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Up Next: Chapter Thirty-Six, Generation Five


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