G3 Chapter Twenty – The Conclusion

Bella heard commotion in the adjoining bedroom in the middle of the night. “Rog,” she said, poking at him, “Rog!” He rolled over and opened one eye. “I think Charlotte’s in labor.”

“How in the world could you possibly know that?” he groaned and rolled over. “Go back to sleep.”

“Because I heard them talking. She’s never awake at this hour, unless she is just coming home from work.”

“Maybe she had to pee. Don’t pregnant women pee a lot at this stage?”

“They do, but…” he cut her off.

“She still has 4 to 5 weeks to go. She’s not in labor, darling. Go to sleep.”

Reluctantly, she rolled over, but she did not sleep.  When the sun came up that morning, Travis rang Bella’s cell phone.

“Bella? It’s Travis. We’re at the hospital, Charlotte went into labor last night. She and the baby are doing well.” He purposely hid the twins from her, on Charlotte’s request. She wanted to see Bella’s face when she realized there were two babies.

Bella smacked Rog, even though he was still sleeping. Drowsy and confused, he gave her a dirty look. “What?” he asked.

She covered the phone with her hand. “Charlotte is at the hospital, Rog! She had her baby last night! I knew it!” When a mother knows, she knows, she thought. “Congratulations, you two!”

“Thanks! Charlotte thinks we’ll be home in the morning, and she’s very tired. There is no reason to rush over.”

“We will see you when you get home, then!” Bella hung up the phone and smacked Rog again. “I missed seeing that baby born, thanks a lot.”

“It wasn’t like they were going to let you in, Bell.” He rubbed his leg where she had smacked him. “You know, that smarts.”

“I’m sorry. I guess I don’t know my own strength.”

“You’re forgiven,” he said. “Now will you please let me sleep, woman?”

She laughed and kissed him. “Move over, I’m cuddling in with you.”

The next morning, Charlotte and Travis came home, each one of them was holding a bundle wrapped in pink. What in the world? Bella thought as she watched them approach.

“Oh, you had twins!” she squealed, as she took the baby from Charlotte. “Oh Charlotte, you guys outdid yourselves. They are perfect!” she cooed over her baby granddaughter.

Travis handed the other twin to Rog, who looked at her. “I’m in love,” he said, cooing at the other baby. “Charlotte, princess, you did a good job!”

They brought the babies up and put them in the same crib together until Chris could come help Travis retrieve the other crib from the attic. And then, the ugliness began when Charlotte suggested that Travis call his parents. From what Bella surmised, his mother wasn’t happy, for whatever reason, that he had called about the babies, or that they even had them to begin with. He was pretty angry when he hung up the phone, and declared that his family was dead to him. Charlotte had implied previously that Travis’ family, and his mother specifically, was stuck on the other side of the accident that killed his ex-girlfriend, and they hadn’t accepted he was moving on.

After the new parents went upstairs to nap, Bella and Rog sat outside by the pool, watching the sunset over the water in the distance to the west. “I can’t imagine what that poor young man has endured with his family since that accident,” Bella finally spoke. “They sound a few crayons short of a box, if you catch my drift.”

“Charlotte mentioned to me they act as though Amy is alive, and that Travis is cheating on her with Charlotte., or that he owes her some kind of faithfulness.” He shook his head. “I tried not to listen to his conversation, but his mother was yelling. It was hard not to hear.” Rog had heard Elizabeth Jones call his daughter a tramp, not once but a couple of times. But he knew better, and he’d seen that particular brand of crazy before.

“Did she still sound angry with Charlotte?” Bella asked as she sipped a glass of nectar.

“Irrationally so, yes.” He shook his head again. “I think if it wasn’t for our daughter, he wouldn’t be alive today. That boy didn’t sound like he cared either way.”

“I think you’re right,” Bella agreed. “She saved him in so many ways. I’m thankful for him. He’s a good husband to her, and he’s going to be a phenomenal father.”

“He saved her, too. She has come out of her shell since they’ve been together. She knows what she wants, and she isn’t afraid to chase it. Much different than the scared teenager she was after her accident.” Rog smiled. “We have two brilliant kids, who picked wonderful mates, and three beautiful grandbabies. Life is bliss, don’t you think?” Rog said, sipping his nectar and holding his hand for her to take.

“I do,” she said, taking his hand as the sun slipped below the horizon.

Jen’s cell number came up on Bella’s phone. “Hey Jen!” she greeted happily, to dead silence on the other end.

“This is Jen’s niece, Crystal. I saw this number in her favorites as we were cleaning out her home….”

“What happened to Jen?” Bella felt tears forming in her eyes.

“My aunt was found last night in her house after she didn’t show up for a dinner reservation with my dad.”

“ Oh, no… no no no!” Bella couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“That’s why I called you. We knew the people in her favorites list would be important to her. But yours was the only number we found. I thought you would want to know.”

Bella shook with sobs. “Thank you,” she managed to reply before she dropped the phone. Rog was in the greenhouse fertilizing the plants, and Charlotte was at work. Travis had taken the girls to a doctor’s appointment, so she was all alone. Overcome with grief, Bella screamed a pitiful wail as her heart shattered yet again. Her sister Bree, her grandson Nick and now her oldest and best friend in the world had left her.

Rog felt weird as he was watering the plants. It was his phone vibrating in his pocket. A fall alert was detected on Bella’s phone. He dropped the hose and ran for the house, taking the steps as quickly as he could. When he got to their bedroom, Bella was laying on the floor, shaking and crying.

“Hey, what happened, darling?” he asked as he sat on the floor with her, placing her head in his lap.

“Jen…” was all she could say. And Rog knew immediately what she meant.

“Oh, baby,” he said, stroking her hair, holding back tears of his own. “I’m so sorry, darling.”

“We… were… having… lunch…” she cried, speaking between sobs. “…tomorrow.” She had told Bella she had a doll for Danae and was going to bring it to The Tower for her. “Rog, she can’t be gone! I’m not ready.” He held her and let her cry, rocking her in his arms.


Bella approached the podium at the Binder Clips Center, delivering the eulogy for Jen Crawford at a public ceremony. Jen’s contributions to the city over the course of her career at the agency were numerous, and Bella had the distinction of being the best-known client she had ever signed, despite her short run in show business.

“Jen Crawford has been my best friend for most of my adult life,” Bella began, “but I was too wrapped up in my own little world to recognize what a treasure she was to my family, to this city, for many years. And now, she has gone like so many before her to the next life, wherever that may be. Jen Crawford leaves behind a legacy of friendship, love, and loyalty. She took a chance on me when no one else would, after the passing of my mother, Destiny Hill. After the rumor mill began its relentless attack on my character, Jen stood with me, regardless of what anyone had to say because she believed in me”

“It was because of Jen that the biggest nightmare of my life ended when she inadvertently cracked one of the longest cold cases in Shores history with the tip that brought down Alexis Rockwell. It was Jen’s friendship, love, and support that got my family through the recent loss of my son’s little boy, Nicholas. She was always there first to lend an ear, the first to offer a hand, the first with a kind word.”

“Jen never married, and if you would have asked her, she would have told you it was because I met Rogelio first.” She paused when the crowd laughed. “But she knew him long before I did.” Her loving gaze shifted to where Rog sat, and she winked at her adoring husband. “She was always fond of him, and in some ways, I believe that Rog was one of the biggest reasons she and I were so close. It was our love and mutual respect for the man who continues to amaze me every day that bonded us together as if we were sisters.”

“Jen leaves behind her brother, Matthew and niece Crystal, hundreds of friends and colleagues the city over, and her adopted, extended family…  mine. She was loved as she will be missed. Deeply and truly.”

Bella’s speech was met with thunderous applause, and Rog was among those who were on their feet. “You did her proud, darling,” he told her as she wiped tears from her eyes.

“I think I just want to go home, baby,” she said. “I am tired of funerals and I’m tired of loss.” Her head rested on Rog’s shoulder as he held her.

“As you wish “ he replied as they walked to Jen’s limousine, one last time, for old times sake.

Bella was having trouble sleeping as she wrestled with the all too recent death of her best friend. Jen was only a few years older than her, and her own mortality was staring her in the eyes. She wasn’t ready to leave.

“I’m not done loving my family yet, Rog,” she said out of the blue one morning after Charlotte had gone to work. Danae and Darcey were playing together in the spa room, and Rog was reading the morning paper. “I don’t want to go.”

“I’m afraid, darling, when the Reaper comes, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Rog had only seen the Reaper a few times, but he knew it was a ruthless and merciless being. Time waited for no sim, even the ones with a great desire to survive.

“Promise me, Rog, that we’ll go together. I don’t want to face a day without you in it.” Bella’s eyes flooded with tears. “Promise me.”

“I can’t make that promise, darling. You know that.” His heart broke to know she was so tormented. Death was a natural and normal process. “I would make sure of it 100 percent if I knew I had any control over it, love.”

“Not good enough,” she cried.

“I don’t know what you want from me, baby.”

“Don’t leave without me.” She remembered her mother’s last months of life, and the empty shell of a woman she became without her love. Bella wanted no part of that emptiness.

An early morning call at the gate the next day summoned Charlotte to answer it. Two Shores police officers stood waiting to enter. Uh oh, was her first thought. Answering the call box, she asked, “How can I help you this morning?”

“Is this the St John residence, Miss?” one officer asked.

“Yes, my parents are the St Johns.”

Before she could ask, the second officer spoke. “Miss, is your mother Bella Atwood?”

“She is,” Charlotte confirmed.

“Miss, we have word from Appaloosa Plains Police that her sister, Bianca, was found deceased in her home last evening. Bella Atwood was listed as her next of kin. Would you please tell her?”

No, she thought. I will not break that woman’s heart again. “Sure, thank you, officer.” Charlotte hung up the phone. She sighed. Aunt Bee.

Softly, she padded upstairs and knocked lightly on her parents’ door, a sense of dread sat in the pit of her stomach. “Mama? Are you awake?”

Rog was reading, while Bella slept peacefully beside him. “Come in, princess,” he called to her.

She opened the door. “Daddy, I have more bad news.” She walked to the bed and sat down at Rog’s feet. “Aunt Bee passed away last night.”

He rolled his eyes and sighed deeply. “Not again.” Bella stirred at the commotion in the bedroom and saw Charlotte sitting with Rog, looking crushed.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Bella asked. Charlotte nodded at Rog.

“Mama, Aunt Bee… she is gone.” Charlotte walked to Bella’s side of the bed and sat with her, putting her arm around her as she cried.

“Bianca, no!” Bella cried. “I can’t take any more bad news.” She covered her head and sunk back beneath the covers, sobbing.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” she consoled. She looked at Rog. “I have to get Danae and Darcey up. Do you want me to drop them at daycare today, Daddy?”

“No, sweetie, I’ll take care of them today,” he told her. “They might be your mama’s only comforts.”

Charlotte nodded and left the room. Rog dug back under the covers with Bella and curled himself around her lovingly. “Darling, I’m so sorry about Bianca.” He kissed her heaving shoulders.

“I’m next, Rog. I’m next,” she repeated. “I can’t take one more loss. Not one. Please, don’t die before me, I’m begging you.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I have no control over that, my love.” He kissed her again. “I’ll do my best, though.”

Rog woke early and arranged an impromptu bouquet of lilies on the dining room table, with a card that simply read, “Loving you forever.” On his pillow, he left a note with one more single white lily, placed carefully with love. He gazed upon his sleeping wife, and his heart swelled with happiness. It was their 50th wedding anniversary.

He quietly closed their bedroom door as he checked on Danae and Darcey. Still sleeping. He took a book from the shelf and sat to read for a while. In the bedroom, Bella awoke to the sweet scent of lilies and turned for Rog. An empty spot where he usually slept. But she noticed the lily and smiled. Every anniversary since their 20th had a flower on his pillow with a simple love note. She had a whole box of notes and cards he had given her through the years, stashed under her bed. She picked up the flower and held it to her nose, enjoying the aroma. Her fingers, now achy with arthritis, unfolded the note, which read:

My dearest Isabella,

Fifty years ago today, you changed my life and rocked my world. I couldn’t imagine a day without you, my love. You have had my heart since we met, and you will have it until the day I die. I am still so very much in love with you.

Thank you for a life well-loved, my sweet darling.

Forever yours, Rog

As she read the words, happy tears streamed down her cheeks. She gently wiped them away, smiling. Once again, he took her breath away, and she loved him more than she ever had. She had to laugh, though, at his use of her real name. He had not even known about it before Charlotte’s daughters were born.

She tiptoed out of the bedroom and peered down the hallway. He was still reading, completely absorbed in whatever the story was, and she smiled at him. He sensed that someone was watching him, and he looked up at her. “There is my darling,” he beamed. “Happy anniversary, my Bella.”

She went to him and hugged him, laying a smooch on his lips. “Thank you for my sweet love note, baby.”

“You’re welcome, my love,” he replied, holding her close. “I know this year, we won’t have The Tower for our anniversary dinner, but I thought of the perfect place.”

“Oh? Please, pray tell!” She was excited. He always made such awesome plans for their anniversary.

“It, my dear, is my surprise. But don’t worry, I will leave you hints throughout the day,” he teased.

In the next room, Danae was babbling happily. “I guess I’m up,” she said, entering the room and plucking her youngest grandbaby from her crib. “Darcey is still sleeping. I’m going to feed Danae.” Charlotte had been on call the night before and was still sleeping.

“Alright, love,” he answered. “I’ll keep an eye out for the other munchkin.”

Bella’s heart fluttered when she saw the flowers on the table. Danae spotted them and pointed. “Fawwers!” she said excitedly and clapped her hands.

“That’s right, sweetie pie! Flowers!” Charlotte was doing a phenomenal job with her babies, despite holding down a full time, very demanding job. Sometimes, Bella didn’t know how she did it. She sat Danae in the high chair and gave her a small bowl of baby food, which she fed to herself. Bella walked back to the table and saw the card attached to the bouquet and read it, her heart fluttering. Ten minutes later, Danae was still picking at the cereal bits in the bowl, and Rog padded downstairs with Darcey in his arms, giggling up a storm as he tickled her belly. “Are you done, baby girl?” Bella said to Danae as she lifted her from the chair, kissing her cheek.

“Thanks, love,” Rog said as he sat Darcey in the high chair and wiped the tray quickly before serving the baby a bowl of the same cereal and fruit. “Charlotte must be wiped out. I know her emergency came in late last night, and I didn’t hear her come in until around five.”

“Yes, I thought I’d let her sleep. She doesn’t have to work this morning.” Bella helped Danae into the bathroom and sat her on the potty chair. “You’re such a big girl! Good girl!”

“Me do!” Came the reply, as Danae clapped. “Me do!”

Travis shuffled down the steps and to the coffee pot. “Charlotte is sick,” he announced, having been awakened by the sounds of his wife throwing up violently in their bathroom. “She is vomiting upstairs.” He poured a cup of coffee. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to the stadium today. I know it’s a special day for you guys. Happy anniversary!”

“Thank you, Travis. Are you sure? We can call a sitter, I think we have plans tonight,” Bella smiled as she winked at Rog.

“Yes, Charlotte and the girls are my responsibility. I’ll take care of them tonight. You two go and have fun. You deserve it.” He sipped the cup of hot brew and sighed. “She is so sick. Ugh.”

“Any chance she could be pregnant, Travis?” Rog asked, being nosy. “I don’t mean to intrude, but it’s a possibility, I’m assuming.”

“Nope, her last cycle was just a week ago, and she tested negative.” They had been trying to have another baby, with no success. “She thinks she had something questionable at work during the emergency shift.”

“Ah yes,” Rog nodded. “The mystery burrito.” It was a running joke during the overnight shift, but apparently, last night’s mystery burrito was making itself known to Charlotte.

“Can I get her some tea, Travis?” Bella asked, at the ready to jump and steep some ginger tea for her, but he stopped her.

“No, she says she needs to get whatever demon she ate out of her belly.” He laughed at her description. “She has a way with words.”

Travis cleaned the twins up and changed their clothes, and brought them upstairs to play in their bedroom. Bella and Rog had the house to themselves.


Rog whispered the first clue to Bella out of the blue. “Banana pancakes.”

“What?” She replied.

“Your first clue. Banana pancakes.” She shook her head. What in the world, she thought. She smiled at him, wondering if maybe he was going a little senile.

Her second clue was left on a note in a conspicuous location. It had one simple word: “Jen.” Now she was doubly confused.

The third clue he texted to her on her phone. “Verde Park.” She thought she might be starting to figure it out. So far, every clue had to do with them dating.

The final clue was the clincher. “Off-strip.” Wow, she thought. We haven’t been to that little place in years. And then she wondered if it was even still there. Sure enough, he drove them right to the spot where they had been regulars, long before the kids were born, long before they started dining with Jen at The Tower.

They both had always loved this little out-of-the-way place. There was no dress code, no snobby celebrities would even be seen there, no worries about anything except each other. It was the perfect place to spend their 50th anniversary.

“This place hasn’t changed a bit,” Bella remarked. “Just like old times.”

“We have very good memories here, my darling,” he replied. “I just wish we were as young as we used to be.”

No one felt that more than Bella. “I’m not ready to leave, even still. I want to enjoy those grandbabies.” But she knew time was not on her side.

“Me too, darling,” he said. “I wish we had our whole lives together all over again. There isn’t a thing I’d do differently. Except for Estevan. I wish I’d never heard of him.”

“You and me both, my love. I wish I would have taken my promise to my daddy a lot more seriously. We might not have had that problem.”

“Well, I know you kept the main promise. That’s all that mattered.”

“I gave my heart to him too quickly. I didn’t know him at all.” She shuddered. “It would have saved me a lot of heartache.”

Rog nodded. “Let’s not talk about that creep anymore. He’s gone.” The dim light made her eyes sparkle. Even grey-haired, she was still beautiful to him. “Would you care to dance?” He asked, standing to take her hand.

“I thought you’d never ask,” she responded, a sweet smile on her face.

A couple of years later, Charlotte and Travis welcomed their third child into the family. Even as a baby, Devin had a full mop of black hair like his daddy, and he was the apple of Rog’s eye. The twins loved him and doted on him every chance they got. The girls were in elementary school when the baby came.  They were about six years older than Devin.

Now that the girls were a little older, Charlotte relied upon them to help her to do little tasks with Devin rather than Bella. She knew her Mama was having a hard time getting around and didn’t want her to fuss more than she needed to with childcare. Besides, the children were Charlotte’s world, and she was a very hands-on mother.

“When do you two have time for each other?” Bella asked Charlotte one night as she changed Devin’s diaper. “You’re both always on the go. How do you sneak alone time in?”

Charlotte blushed deeply. “Mama! I can’t believe you’re asking me about that.”

Bella laughed. “You act as though you’re totally innocent. With three babies, I know you’re active, princess. I just want to make sure you’re making time for Travis. He’s a very handsome man, and I’ve seen women around town drooling and fawning over him.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that, too. But I would trust Travis with my life, Mama. I know he wouldn’t cheat.” Charlotte finished dressing Devin and sat with him to nurse him.

“That’s good,” Bella affirmed. “Keep him close to you. He loves you so much.”

Charlotte smiled. “He has no idea how much I adore him.”

Travis returned home from work with a big fat raise and promotion that night. “I’m now officially the top-paid player on the team,” he announced.

“Sweetie, that’s fantastic!” Charlotte beamed. “I’m so proud of you!”

“How proud?” He winked at her. Bella smiled coyly at both of them.

“I’ll get Devin to sleep. You two go have fun.” Bella said as she scooped up the squirming toddler, kissing his face.

“I’m pretty proud of you.” Charlotte wrapped her arms around him. “Let’s go for dinner tonight.”

“Sounds great,” Travis said. “Thanks for taking the baby, Mama. We’ll be out for a while.”

Bella waved at them as she sat in the rocking chair, and rocked her youngest grandson to sleep.

Rog and Bella were in bed, watching the snow falling outside their bedroom window and listening to their grandchildren play downstairs. Her hair, now snow-white, was still silky, thick and lovely. Rog ran his fingers through it, and buried his face in it, kissing her. He relished the feel of her still baby soft skin, how it felt against his. Her face was still the epitome of beauty, and it amazed him how young she still looked to him. After well over fifty years together, she still made his heart flutter. He kissed her neck and whispered, “In case I haven’t told you in a while, my darling, I love you with all my heart.” He kissed her shoulders, wrapped his arms around her waist and snuggled in close behind her. “I mean it, baby.”

“Mmmm, I love you too, Rog.” She was enjoying the attention he was giving her. “What’s the occasion for such a beautiful confession?” The love they shared was always spoken, but the way he said it that morning felt different, almost urgent.

“Just because,” Rog said, smiling and enjoying the scent of her hair. It still smelled like green apples, and he loved it. “But let’s just stay here this morning. I want to be with you today.” He twirled a lock of her pure white curls around his finger.

“Rog, you’re scaring me,” she answered, stiffening involuntarily. “Your tone is different. What’s going on?”

“The truth is, darling, I’m not feeling well. And if I meet the Reaper today, then I want to leave this world knowing I was here loving you and nothing else.”

“The Reaper?” Her eyes widened. “Do you need Charlotte to come take a look at you?” Bella was legitimately worried.

“Nah, there’s nothing she could do for me, darling.” He felt weak, almost too much so to get up out of bed. “If it’s my time, then I want you here with me, love.”

She cried into her pillow. “It can’t be your time, Rog. I don’t want you to go. I’m not ready!”

Pulling her close, he kissed her neck. “Please don’t cry, darling,” he said tenderly. “I don’t want my last sight of you to be in tears.”

She rolled over to face him. Gently, he wiped the tears from her face and kissed her. “Darling, just hold me and stay with me. I love you so very much.”

Bella wrapped herself around him, snuggling in close. “You can’t leave me here, Rog. Please, honey… please don’t go.”

‘Shh,” he said. “Just hold me.” He stroked her hair, the words ‘I love you’ on his lips repeatedly.

They fell asleep together, their bodies intertwined. A strong odor woke Bella several hours later, and she saw a dark, shadowy figure looming over Rog.

“NO!” Bella screamed. “You can’t have him!” She shook him violently, but he did not stir. “Baby, no! Please,” she begged the Reaper. “Please don’t take my love from me.” The Reaper said not a word, but looked at her with pity, his harrowing laugh sent an icy chill down her spine. With the stroke of his scythe, Rog was gone, and where the Reaper stood was a white urn trimmed with gold between two black, sooty marks. The spot on the bed where Rog had been laying next to Bella was suddenly empty.

Charlotte and Travis heard her scream and ran for their bedroom. The anguish was evident. Bella was pale white, sobbing, calling his name softly. Rog’s urn sat prominently on the floor, accompanied by the Reaper’s black footprints. The pungent smell of death permeated the air. It nearly made Charlotte sick.

“Oh Mama,” Charlotte wept. “Daddy no…” Travis held her as tears rolled down his face.

Danae and Darcey both ran up the steps. “Mama? Where are you?” Darcey called.

“With Nana,” she replied, crying. “Pop Pop is gone, my babies.”

Both twins appeared in the door at the same time and saw Bella weeping before Rog’s urn. “Mama, I’m sorry,” Danae said, running to her and hugging her. Darcey went to Bella and wrapped her arms around her Nana, trying to comfort her.


“Let me go,” Bella begged as Charlotte looked her over. “I’m nothing without your dad. Please, just let me go.” Her violet eyes, usually vibrant and sparkling, were sunken and nearly lifeless, and her normally beautiful skin looked as though she had been ill for a very long time. But Rog had only been gone for five days.

“Mama, please come downstairs and be with us,” Charlotte replied. “You still have a family who loves you. Your grandbabies, Mama. Me. Travis. Christopher…” Her words trailed off. Her pleas were making no difference.

“Let me go, princess.” Bella was adamant. She didn’t feel well, and she didn’t want to leave her bedroom. The sooty black marks on the carpet remained. Rog’s urn still stood where the Reaper had left it, untouched.

“Mama, you haven’t left this room since Daddy died.” Charlotte looked at the full bottle of heart medication on her nightstand. “Have you taken any of this since the doctor prescribed it?”

“No,” Bella replied weakly. She hadn’t eaten and had only drank a little water that Charlotte had brought to her. She knew this would happen to Bella when her father died, but she didn’t expect her to decline so quickly.

“I’m not going to make you take them, Mama. I’m not going to force you to stay where you don’t want to be.” Charlotte’s heart broke into pieces. She wasn’t sure she could handle losing both parents within a week’s time.

“Thank you, princess. I know it will be tough on you and Travis, but I… I can’t be without him.” Bella breathed a labored breath. “I’m lost. I don’t remember how to live without him. You’ll understand someday.”

Charlotte gathered the twins downstairs, and Travis sat by her side. “Girls, Nana isn’t going to make it through the day,” she said, holding back sadness. “She wants to see you all, and say goodbye.” Devin was too young to understand, but he always wanted to see Nana. “I’m going to bring your brother up first.” Danae and Darcey huddled together, trying to figure out what to say. They had never done anything like this before.

Charlotte brought Devin to her and set him down on the floor near her bed. He stood and looked at her. “Nana?” he babbled.

“Hi sweet boy,” Bella said in a raspy voice. “You be a good boy for your mama and daddy, okay?” The boy nodded and reached up for her to pick him up. Charlotte lifted the boy and put him in Bella’s lap. She snuggled him close and kissed his cheek. “I love you, sweet Devin.” Charlotte choked up as she retrieved her son from Bella, as the effort to hold him seemed too much for her.

“The girls will want to see you, Mama. They’re coming up in a minute.” She knew the twins were crying, trying to figure out what to say to her. Charlotte knew they didn’t have much time to waste, so she encouraged them to see her immediately.

Danae and Darcey walked timidly up to Bella’s bedside. Darcey knelt on the floor and Danae sat on the bed with Bella and hugged her. “Nana, I love you so much. Thank you for everything you’ve taught me. I will never forget you.” Danae wept as she hugged Bella.

Trying not to cry, Darcey stood and hugged Bella. “I love you, Nana. Take good care of Pop-Pop, and tell him I love him, too.” Darcey broke down crying and hugged Bella.

“I will, sweet pea. I love you both,” Bella told the girls. “Be good for your Mama and Daddy, they love you so.” The twins nodded and each hugged her one last time. They walked from Bella’s room, their sobs filling the hallway.

Charlotte and Travis were the last ones to see Bella alive. They both sat and held her hand, and Charlotte sang to her softly as she took her last breath of life. The Reaper crept in quietly, interrupting a tender family moment. Charlotte looked at him, tears in her eyes, and said, “Take her to my daddy.” The Reaper nodded and took her, leaving behind an urn of white alabaster and gold. Travis held his wife tightly and they cried together as Bella left with the Reaper, and a second set of black, sooty marks appeared on the carpet by her urn. Rog and Bella were together eternally, never to be parted again.

Up Next: Charlotte Destiny St John

G3 Chapter Nineteen

Charlotte and Travis were expecting their first baby soon after the wedding. Rog’s best guess was that it was conceived during their wedding night, or shortly afterward, considering the time that had passed from their wedding to the first bout of morning sickness. Her own doctor figured she was about 8 weeks along, and everything was looking great, other than the fact that she had awful morning sickness.

Jen Crawford, Bella’s longtime friend, and former talent agent, finally decided to sell her agency and retire. To celebrate, she invited Rog and Bella to dinner at The Tower.

“Does this look alright, baby?” Bella asked as she straightened her hem. She wanted to get one last wear out of that dress before she felt too old to wear it, and she was hoping that was the night.

“You look fabulous, as always, darling,” Rog said, staring at her. “You’re always going to be the most beautiful woman around.” Bella blushed.

Charlotte was by the fireplace, working on some office work, and Travis had a game that night. Bella and Rog let her know they were leaving and headed out for a night of fun with Jen.

“Well, don’t you two look amazing tonight!” Jen gushed over her favorite couple. “I’m getting to be a little old lady, and here you are looking like you’re in your twenties!”

Bella laughed. “I might feel twenty, but the body says pushing 60, Jen!”

Rog shook his head. “Nothing wrong with that body,” he admired and winked at Bella.

Jen nodded. “I’ll never look like that, ever!” Bella was flustered by all of the compliments.

They sat down at Jen’s table, and the waiter brought a bottle of their best wine to the table. “Wine for Madame et Monsieur this evening?” he said, talking to Rog and Bella.

“Just a little for me,” Bella stated, holding her fingers about an inch apart.

“No, but thank you,” said Rog.

“Sure, you two leave me to drink all by myself!” she faked insult, and they laughed.

“I’m on call, or I would join you lovely ladies,” Rog insisted. “But, if I need to leave, I can’t be tipsy.”

Jen ordered some calamari for the table and some nectar for Rog. “So you don’t feel left out,” she winked.

About halfway through dinner, Rog’s pager sounded. Bella rolled her eyes. “Just one time I want to get through a meal without that pager beeping.”

“Me too, darling,” he said, and kissed her. “Thanks, Jen. Be nice to my wife, and don’t send her home wasted!”

Jen laughed. “I won’t!”

Rog drove to the hospital and saw Charlotte’s little orange car outside the Emergency Room entrance. Oh no! he thought to himself as he checked her chart. He fell into one of the doctor’s office chairs and buried his head in his hands.

“What’s wrong, boss?” asked one of the nurses on duty.

“The girl in room 3. The miscarriage. She’s my daughter.”

“I just saw Dr. Myles in with her not long ago. She is in good hands, Doc.” The nurse put his hand on Rog’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, man. I know you were looking forward to your first grandbaby.”

He went into the restroom and splashed some cold water on his face. He knew nothing good was going to come of this, and he dreaded having to be the person to tell Bella.

He walked into Charlotte’s room, and she and Travis were locked in an embrace. “Oh no,” he said, his heart breaking in two. “Oh, princess.” They both looked at him with tears flowing freely down their faces. “I wish this wasn’t happening. You don’t deserve this.” He kissed Charlotte’s forehead. “I’m so sorry.”

He left the room and was angry. Angry that someone pulled him away from dinner for this. That he had to leave his wife and her best friend to come and get this terrible news, and he could do nothing to make it better or even help. And now… now he had to go home and tell the love of his life that same awful news. “Why did you page me for this? Her doctor has this under control!”

“I’m sorry, Dr. St John. We thought you would want to come check on her.”

He moved away from earshot of Charlotte’s room. “This was not my emergency, and it’s not a trauma, not my problem! How did you think I would be helpful here?” He started to shake. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, unable to keep his cool.

“We’re sorry doctor. We really thought you’d want to be here.”

“It should have been HER call, not yours.” Rog grabbed his phone and beeper. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Bella had texted him while he was at the hospital, saying she was already home. He drove his old minivan to the house and parked in the driveway. How am I going to tell her? He wondered. What do I say?

Rog walked into the house to Bella calling for Charlotte. “Rog, she isn’t home!” she said, panicked, almost crying.

“She… she was my page at the hospital, darling.” There was no easy way to say it.

“What’s wrong, Rog? Is she okay? The baby…” Bella knew by the look on his face. “Oh no…” she cried, slumping to the floor. She sat and cried for a few moments, and then suddenly stopped. “My baby girl.” She stood up and grabbed her keys, heading for the garage.

“Where are you going?” Rog asked.

“To the hospital,” she said, and Rog ran after her.

“No, darling,” he said, restraining her as she tried to fight him. “Let them be, honey.” She collapsed into his arms, sobbing.

Charlotte returned home from the hospital the next day after staying the night for observation. Travis was with her when they walked through the back door, his arm around her, shielding her, protecting her.. Bella, who was in the living room, saw them walk into the house, but kept her distance against her every instinct. But, she didn’t want to be ‘that’ mother, overbearing and overprotective. She’s a grown woman now, Bella told herself. Her husband is there for her now.  But when she saw Charlotte’s face,  her spirit broken, she couldn’t help herself.

“Mama,” Charlotte cried, running to Bella.

“Oh, baby girl,” she cried, wrapping Charlotte in her arms. “I’m so sorry honey.” Travis stood off to the side, watching Charlotte carefully. “Travis,” she said, motioning him to her for a hug. “I’m so sorry.” She gave Charlotte a kiss on her forehead.

Cautiously he approached Bella and allowed her to hug him. “Me too,” Travis said, holding back tears. “Me too.” He pulled back and held his arms open for Charlotte, and she went to him. “She’s tired, Bella. They didn’t let her sleep all night.” He carried her upstairs and tucked her into bed, and went back downstairs.

“Would you like some coffee, Travis?” Bella offered. “You look beat up.” He nodded, and she poured a cup.

“Thanks, Bella.” He stirred some cream and a bit of sugar into it, and sat at the counter with her.

“So, what’s next?” Bella asked, curious. She’d never known anyone who had gone through a miscarriage before.

“Well, the doctor wanted to do a procedure, but it wasn’t without its risks. We decided to let the process occur naturally, so she’ll probably bleed for a few more days, and it will be over on its own. She has been poked, prodded and examined seven ways from Sunday. They really wanted to do the D&C, but she was adamant.” He opened his wallet and pulled out a prescription. “She’s supposed to take these for pain if she needs them, and I suspect she will. She’s hurting pretty badly right now. I need to go fill this while she’s asleep.”

“Why don’t you stay with her, Travis? I’ll go and fill it for her.”

He nodded. “Thank you, Bella. I’d appreciate that.” He yawned as he sipped his coffee. “This isn’t going to make up for 9 hours of lost sleep, that’s for sure.”

“No, I’d guess not,” Bella said. Taking the prescription, she grabbed her keys. “I’ll be back soon, Travis. Take good care of your girl.” He nodded.

In the car on the way out, she dialed Jen’s cell number. “Hey, girlfriend!” Jen greeted her on the other end. “What’s shakin’?”

“Jen, I have some bad news,” Bella cried. “Charlotte… she lost her baby last night.”

She heard Jen choke up and start to cry. “You’ve got to be joking me. Please say you’re pulling my leg…”

“I’m afraid it’s true, Jen.”

“Oh no!” Jen cried. “I’m so sorry, honey. This is so tragic.” She sniffled. “Is that why Rog had to leave?”  After all the heartache the family had suffered, this was the last thing they needed. There was no greater pain, and she felt awful for Charlotte and Travis.

“Yes. He wasn’t very happy about being paged for it, either. He was helpless to stop anything.” She parked the car at the pharmacy. “I’m out to pick up some pain medication for her, so I thought I’d call and let you know.”

“Thank you, Bella. Let me know how I can help out.” Jen offered, and they hung up after a few more minutes.

The pharmacy only took a few minutes to fill Charlotte’s prescription, and Bella was on her way home. Rog called her from work.

“Hey, darling,” he said, “How is she?”

“I don’t know, baby. Travis is home with her. I came out to fill a prescription, but I’m on my way home now.”

“She looked pretty beat when she was discharged this morning. She declined a D&C, which I think was a smart move. Natural is better, but honestly, that isn’t my specialty.” He was just talking to fill space in the conversation. He knew that Bella knew everything he was saying.

“Yes, baby, she went right up to bed. Travis said they didn’t let her sleep all night.”

“They never do.” He felt like there was nothing left to say. “I’ll be home soon, I just wanted to check-in.”

“See you later, my love,” she said, and hung up the phone.

It was well past 6pm, and they hadn’t been downstairs all day, though the prescription she had gotten for them had been retrieved from the table by the door. Bella was worried, but Rog talked her into just leaving them alone. “When she’s hungry, darling, she’ll come downstairs. They need time to process this.”

“You seem to be handling this just fine,” she said. She searched his face for any trace of emotion, but she couldn’t find any.

“Crying won’t bring the baby back, darling,” he said very matter-of-factly. “We all just have to accept it and move on.”

“Easy for you to say, doctor.” Bella wasn’t happy with him. She felt he was being insensitive when she needed him to comfort her. She knew she couldn’t turn to Charlotte, and Rog wasn’t providing her with what she needed.

“I’m sorry, love,” he said. “It’s the doctor in me. We see loss every day. Of course, this has affected me. I didn’t sleep last night. I can’t concentrate at work.” He hugged her close. “I hate seeing you in this much emotional pain. We’ve already suffered so much…”

“I’m tired Rog,” she said. “I need to call Christopher, and I’m going to bed.”

Bella dialed Chris’ number. No answer, so she left a message. “Christopher, it’s your mama. Call me when you have a chance. I love you.”

She dragged herself upstairs, and was tempted to knock on their door, but thought the better of it. Instead, she changed into the nightie she knew Rog loved, and waited for him, needing him desperately.

“Cade is pregnant!” Chris announced on the phone. “She’s about 9 weeks along, and she’s doing great!” Chris almost felt bad, but he knew Bella needed some good news.

“Oh Chris, that is fantastic!” Bella was so happy for them.

“Yeah, we’re pretty excited!” Chris told her. “She isn’t even that sick, but the doctor said she might still have some morning sickness before her second trimester.”

“I was sick with you for months, even into the second trimester,” Bella said. “In fact, I had a difficult pregnancy with you, which is why you don’t have a little brother or sister.”

Chris laughed. “I’m sorry,” he teased. “But then again, not sorry.” Bella chuckled. They spoke for a few more minutes and then hung up.

Rog was on his way home from work and stopped to buy some flowers for Bella at a little vendor on the street near Verde Park. “Do you have lilies?  White, preferably.”

“I do, Doctor,” the clerk said, noting his coat and name badge. “What are we celebrating today?”

“Just surprising my amazing wife with her favorite flowers.”

The clerk smiled. “Aww! How sweet.”

“Thank you so much,” Rog said, as he paid for the flowers and got back into his car. “I will be back!”

He parked his car in the driveway, and made sure to leave room for Charlotte to get out for work later on. Bella was dusting when he walked through the door.

“Hey darling,” he greeted her. She dropped her rag and ran to him. After all these years together, she still missed him when they were apart.

She sniffed the air around him. “Mmmm. I smell something beautiful,” she said, flirting.

Following her lead, he sniffed her. “Me too!” She blushed.

“That isn’t what I meant,” she replied, smiling.

He grinned. “Oh, I know, but I couldn’t help myself,” he said, presenting the bouquet of lilies to her.

“Oh Rog,” she exclaimed. “These are lovely! Thank you, sweetheart.”

“For you, my darling, anything.” He kissed her hand.

“Oh!” she remembered. “Christopher called this morning. Cade is expecting!” She smiled brightly, beaming at the news. She walked to the kitchen to grab a vase and fill it with water.

“You just made my day, love,” he said, wrapping his arms around her. “We should have them over for dinner soon.”

“I can do that,” she answered, arranging the lilies, breathing in their sweet aroma.

“What can you do?” Charlotte asked, as she sleepily descended the steps.

“Have Christopher and Cade over for dinner. Have you talked to your brother, Charlotte? Cade is expecting.”  Bella wasn’t sure that blurting the news out was very sensitive, but she was going to find out eventually, especially when she went to have her hair done at the salon. Cade had quit her job at the coffeehouse and started doing makeovers. She loved her work and she was particularly good at it..

“No, I hadn’t heard.” Charlotte sighed. “I’m happy for them.”

“I’m sorry baby girl,” Bella apologized. “I didn’t think before I spoke.”

“Mama, it’s okay.” Six months was plenty of time to feel better, and she truly did feel better. She and Travis had made peace with her miscarriage, and they were actively trying to get pregnant.

Bella smiled. “Have you been feeling okay, princess?”

“Never better,” she replied. “But, I do need some coffee. I need to stay awake all night, and I feel like I’m up way too early.” She walked to their new coffee maker, a single cup espresso maker, and brewed a cup. “Why didn’t we buy one of these earlier? This thing is fantastic!”

“Good question,” Rog quipped. “Waited until I’m almost ready to retire, and then we got a fancy new coffee maker.” He feigned disappointment.

“Did Trav go to work already?” She missed seeing him off. That was part of her routine since her shift change five months ago.

“Yes, sweetheart,” Bella answered. “His coach called him in early for practice.” Charlotte sighed, sipped her coffee, and picked up her research notes to review before her shift.

“I forgot to tell you, love,” Rog remembered. “I’m starting to get the feeling the admin wants me to retire.”

“What makes you think so?” she asked.

“Well, it could be the email I got asking when I’m going to retire,” he laughed. “Just because they want me to, maybe I’ll stick around until the Reaper comes, just to spite them.”

Bella smiled, but suddenly felt old. Retirement. That only happens to old people, she thought. But she knew she was fooling herself with her hair color appointments. It was only a matter of time before the grey hair would outnumber the red hair. “I feel old, Rog.” Bella sighed.

“You still look like you’re twenty to me.” He hugged her and they kissed.

Charlotte rolled her eyes with a coy grin. “Get a room,” she said. Without missing a beat, they both nodded, and headed upstairs.

Christopher and Cade welcomed twin boys later that year, Nicholas and Gregory St John, Bella and Rog’s first grandchildren. Chris was there when she gave birth and nearly passed out. Bella laughed at his story-telling while he relived the event.

“Mom, there is just so much blood! They don’t come out nice and clean like they do on television.” He almost looked like he was ready to pass out, just from retelling it. But he smiled at his infant son, cradled in his father’s arm, and smiled. They were both worth it.

“No, son, they don’t!” Rog laughed. “But you and Cade made some pretty cute little boys.” He was absolutely in love with the little bundle of joy that lay sleeping in his arms.

“I concur,” Bella agreed, holding the other twin. She cooed over her grandson, while Cade got some rest. “If you ever need help, Chris, don’t be afraid to call me. I have nothing but time.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Chris replied. “I think we’re going to hire some help while they are little, just so Cady doesn’t have to do so much on her own.” Cade was planning on quitting her job and being a stay at home mom. Chris was doing so well in his job that they didn’t need the money, and Cade didn’t want to miss a moment of their growing up.

“The offer still stands, sweetheart,” Bella offered.

About a year later…

Shortly after their third wedding anniversary, when Chris’ boys were just about 15 months old, Charlotte became pregnant with their rainbow baby. Because of the trauma of the miscarriage, they decided to wait to announce it until she was past the first three months of pregnancy, when it seemed less likely something awful would happen. But at week 13, everything was going smoothly, and the doctor was pleased with Charlotte’s progress. The only thing Charlotte detested was the constant morning sickness, and it lasted well into her second trimester.

“Charlotte, if you don’t start keeping food down, honey, I’m going to suggest bed rest,” Rog told her. Obstetrics was not his forte, but he knew that the baby couldn’t grow if she couldn’t eat.

“Dr. Myles says I’m fine, Daddy,” she told him, as she nibbled on crackers and sipped ginger tea.

“I worry about you, princess,” he said, concerned. “You’re too thin as it is, and a baby needs nourishment.”

“I’m a doctor too, you know. You’re preaching to the choir.”

Travis’ footsteps made their way into the argument between Charlotte and Rog. “Travis, tell your wife she needs to gain some weight with this baby.”

Travis was no genius, but he knew enough to stay out of an argument involving his father-in-law and his wife, especially when the opposing side was suggesting his wife gain weight. “I’m staying out of this one, sorry Rog.” He walked to Charlotte and rubbed her growing belly. “How’s our little one today?”

“Growing up a storm!” Charlotte beamed. He leaned to kiss her, and the smell of his cologne made her instantly ill. “I’m sorry, honeybear,” she said, running for the bathroom. Her retching could be heard from the downstairs bath, and it was becoming a familiar, ambient noise.

“See what I mean, Travis? She needs to keep food down, or she might have problems with this baby.”

Travis nodded his head. “I’ll mention it to Dr. Myles at her appointment tomorrow.” They were getting an ultrasound done for her 20-week check.

“Thank you. I worry about her. She’s so thin already.” Rog tapped his ring on his chair, and Travis’ carpool arrived.

“Wait!” Charlotte called from the bathroom. Travis heard the water running, so he knew she would be out in a minute or two, and he waited. She waddled out to him, her breath minty fresh, but her stomach still feeling queasy. “Mmmm,” she purred as she kissed him, her arms around his neck. “Have a good night at work.”

“You still make a man want to skip, you know.” Giggling, she blew him a kiss, and he left.

“I know what you’re going to say, but it’s too late,” Rog warned Charlotte. “Travis is going to bring up the continued nausea at your appointment tomorrow.”

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever you think is good, Dr. Trauma Surgeon.” She walked to the kitchen to make another cup of tea, and then up to their bedroom to read.

Well, Rog, he thought to himself, good job. You just ticked your daughter off.

Bella’s phone rang at 3am. A sense of dread washed over her. No good phone calls come in the middle of the night. She reached for her cell as it rang.

“Hello?” she said, sleepily.

“Bella, it’s Bianca.” Her voice was trembling, and she had obviously been crying. “It’s Bree. She’s gone.”

Bella sat up in bed. “No! No no no!” She began to cry. “Oh Bee, when? How?”

“She died in her sleep. She took a nap and never woke up.” She could tell Bianca was devastated. Neither of them had married, and all they ever had was each other.

Bella forgot about the time difference. It was only midnight in Appaloosa Plains. “Oh Bee, I’m so… heartbroken.” She sniffled as the sisters cried together on the phone.

Her weeping woke Rog, and seeing her crying startled him. “Bell? Is everything okay?  Charlotte?”

She nodded. “Bree died in her sleep tonight, Rog.” Saying the words didn’t make it sound any more real. She couldn’t believe her older sister was gone. “Bee, I can’t come. My daughter is expecting her first baby any day now.”

“I understand, Bella, I just knew you’d want to know.” Bianca choked back a sob on the other end. “I should go, I know it’s early where you are. I love you, Bella.”

“I love you too, Bee. Thanks for calling, and let me know if you need anything. I can wire money if you need it.”

“Thanks but I have it handled.” Bianca sniffled. “I’ll call you later, Bell.”

“Okay, Bee. We’ll talk soon.” She hung up the phone and laid her head on Rog’s chest, crying.  “She can’t be gone, Rog. She can’t.” Taking a breath, she sobbed. “I never got to say goodbye.”

Rog held her as she cried herself to sleep, and thought to himself, this poor woman can’t take much more heartache.


Up Next: Chapter Twenty, Generation Three


G3 Chapter Eighteen – Love Is In The Air

After Charlotte’s engagement, Bella felt guilty that she had given such a beautiful heirloom to Chris, and had nothing for her. In comparison, Charlotte’s ring didn’t look much different than the purity ring she still wore on her left hand, and at a quick glance, they were difficult to distinguish. But for Charlotte, it could have been plastic and she would have loved it just the same. For her, it was never about the ring anyway. She just loved that boy, and it broke her heart when he went back to school, even though she had the opportunity to encourage him to stay.

Bella wasted no time preparing for Charlotte’s wedding. She wanted the whole experience: The church, the flowers, the cake, the dancing. The chapel’s first realistic opening for a wedding, however, was nearly a year away, in the beginning of winter. In a way, it made planning easier, but Bella knew her daughter would have a rough time resisting Travis for that long. He was a handsome, very affectionate guy. Having him under the same roof could be a recipe for disaster.

Looking through Charlotte’s contacts on her laptop, she found the one she sought. Dialing her cell, she waited for the voice on the other end.


“Travis, hey this is Bella,” she greeted. “Do you have a moment or two that we could talk?”

“Sure,” he said, hesitant. “What can I do for you?”

“Charlotte’s dad and I want to give her a family heirloom to wear as a wedding ring, and we would be honored if you would do that for her.” Bella had already planned on taking her ring to be sized and cleaned, so she hoped he would be amenable to the idea.

Travis thought for a moment, not sure if he felt insulted or happy. “May I ask why?”

“Well, we gave her brother a sizable gift when he married Cade. I feel funny not doing the same for her, even though she insists she isn’t looking for such a gift. I don’t mean any insult by it, Travis. It’s just something I wanted to do for her.” Bella hoped he would give it some thought before completely dismissing the idea.

“Well, I hadn’t even considered a wedding band for her yet. I’m still struggling to survive here on campus, so I guess the offer would be welcomed.”

“That is great to hear, Travis! I will set it aside for you to see before you make your final decision.”

“Sounds good,” he replied. “Look, I hate to cut this short, but I have class in ten minutes.”

“Oh, it’s all good, Travis. Study hard!” she said, as they hung up the phone. Bella slid her wedding band off and placed it into a clamshell box, and into her dresser drawer.

Her next phone call was to Pastor Mark Murphy, the chaplain at the wedding chapel where she and Rog had been married. He was fairly new, but he was well-liked in the community and she looked forward to meeting with him.

“Hello?” he said into the receiver of his office phone.

“Pastor Mark?” Bella started. “This is Bella St John, we spoke last week about my daughter’s wedding. I wanted to confirm the date so we can go forward with planning.”

“Oh yes,” he said, “I remember you!” He shuffled through his paperwork on the desk and found his planner. “I think we decided the first week in winter, is that correct?”

“Yes, Pastor,” she answered. “The spring date was too soon, and her fiancé won’t be graduated from university before late spring anyway. He will be coming to live with my family once he leaves Sim State, so he can find work and settle in.”

“Let me pencil that in right… now.” He finished setting the appointment in his book. “We can discuss times when you have a better idea of other plans.”

“That works for me, Pastor, thank you so much for being flexible on this. I’ll be in touch soon!”

She jotted the date into her notebook. Church, check. Ring, check. So much to do, and not much time, considering how quickly time seemed to fly anymore.

“Hey beautiful,” Rog greeted her as he walked through the back door. Charlotte was working a later shift, and was not with him.

“Hey my love,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. “I have missed you today.”

“Oh, you have?” Rog raised an eyebrow at her. “How much?”

She laughed. “You’re insatiable.”

“You know it,” he joked. “But you made me this way.”

“While you’re in a good mood, I have a proposition for you.”

He stood straight up. “I like to be propositioned.” She nudged him gently.

“Not what I meant,” she laughed and stuck her tongue out at him. Taking his hand, she led him up to the bedroom.

“Wait, now I’m confused,” he said as he followed her.

“Don’t be. This will just take a moment.” She went to her dresser and pulled out the box that contained her wedding ring, handing it to him.

He opened the box, and he fluttered his hands, pretending to cry. “Yes, Bella, I will marry you!”

She laughed way too much at him, and when she was able to pull herself back together, she said, “I want to give this to Charlotte as a wedding band.” Rog’s face went stone straight.

“But, I gave you that ring, darling.”

“I know, and I love it. But I have this gorgeous ring, Chris and Cady have my Mama’s rings, and poor Charlotte has…” her words faded away with emotion.

He nodded his head. “Nothing.”

She sighed. “Yes, she has nothing.” She hugged him and rested her head on his chest. “I would really like to do this for her.”

“You have my blessing. She is my princess, after all.” Rog kissed the top of Bella’s head as he held her close.

Charlotte and Bella took a day trip to Isla Paradiso to look for a wedding dress. She wasn’t impressed by the findings in town, despite the number of dress stores on the strip. Charlotte wanted something different. Bella had already booked two appointments in two of the most exclusive wedding shops on the island, so they didn’t need to waste their time looking around the town.

After the tenth dress in the first shop, they were coming up empty and had another appointment in less than an hour. Then, their flight back to the Shores left at 8pm, so time was of the essence. “Thank you for your time,” she said as they left the store empty-handed. Charlotte was feeling hopeless.

“Mama, what if we don’t find it here?”

“Then we’ll have one made, just for you,” Bella said. They walked to the next boutique, which was next door to a coffee shop. “Let’s get some coffee while we wait,” she suggested. Charlotte could definitely use a pick-me-up.

“Sounds good, Mama,” she said as she held the door for Bella.

They opened the door of the little boutique, and the bell on the door chimed. The shop smelled of lilies, Bella’s favorite flower, and the sitting room was comfortable. The store owner, a little lady native to the island, greeted them when they walked in. “You must be Mrs. St John!”

Bella smiled. “I am indeed! This is my beautiful daughter, Charlotte.” She held out her hand to shake, and the owner wrapped Charlotte in a hug.

“We’re all friends here, Mrs. St John.” She grabbed Bella into a friendly hug and sat down. “My name is Jayna, and this shop has been in my family for three generations.” She handed a book of dresses to Charlotte. “I can get any dress you’d like and have it sent to a local shop of your choosing. We also have the best selection in three counties, but I’m sure you already know that.” Jayna was sure of herself and her market.

“Thank you, Jayna. Please, call me Bella,” she said as she leafed through the large catalog of dresses. Charlotte was already up and looking around.

“Mama!” Charlotte gasped. “I think I found it!” The dress was pure white taffeta and satin, a full skirt and fitted bodice, no sleeves, encrusted with pearls and rhinestones. It had no train, but it had room to have one attached if she desired. Bella walked to her daughter, and Jayna was right behind them.

“Ah yes,” Jayna exclaimed. “This one was handmade by a local seamstress. This is the only one like it. Try it on, Charlotte,” she encouraged.

She carried the dress gingerly to the dressing room and called Bella to help her. The dress was nearly a perfect fit on Charlotte’s petite frame and only needed minor alterations. They walked to the sitting area, and Charlotte stepped onto the pedestal in front of a set of mirrors. Bella was overcome with emotion as her daughter modeled the dress.

“This is the one,” Charlotte said, admiring herself in the mirrors. “What do you think, Mama?”

Bella reached for one of the many tissue boxes Jayna had scattered around the sitting area and suddenly realized why there were so many of them around. “Oh sweetheart,” she said, “You look stunning.” She took her phone out and snapped a picture of Charlotte in the gown. “I guess we’re going to take this one, Jayna.”

“Are you not going to ask the price on this one, Bella?” Jayna asked, astonished.

“No, because if that baby girl wants it, then her father and I will gladly pay for it.” Jayna was moved by Bella’s statement.

“Well, just for you today, because you made a special trip from the Shores, and because I happen to know your family is a big deal back home, I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse!” Jayna wrote down a number on a slip of paper and showed it to Bella. She walked to Charlotte and saw the tag on the dress.

“Jayna,” Bella said, almost as white as the dress, “your offer is well over half off the tag on that dress.”

“Well, recommend my shop to your friends, and I’ll consider it even!” Jayna held her arms out, and Bella accepted the hug. “Handshakes are so twenty years ago!” Jayna exclaimed.

“I can’t thank you enough, Jayna. Really.” Bella was floored by the generosity of the deal. The dress was originally §15,000 and Bella would have paid that. Instead, the offer was only §6,500.

“I’ll have it packaged and shipped, so you don’t have to carry it on the airplane this evening,” Jayna offered. Bella finished the sale and left their home address for Jayna. “Remember to take lots of pictures of this beautiful bride. I want to see them!” Jayna hugged Charlotte and Bella one more time.

“Thank you so much, Jayna. I feel like we spent the afternoon with a close friend.” Bella said as the woman offered one last hug.

“That is what I aim for with every customer, Bella. It was how my mother did business here, and it is why people come from all over to get their dresses here.” Bella nodded.

The mother and daughter left the store, feeling accomplished.

Bella was just finishing up getting Travis’ room ready for him when the phone rang. “We’re almost there, Mama,” Charlotte’s voice rang on the other end. “Maybe 10 minutes out.”

“We’ll be waiting, princess!” Bella said and hung up the phone. For the next few months, Travis would be living in Shana’s old room, until the wedding. She knew it would be tough for him to get on his feet right out of school, and he would need some time to establish himself in a job. She was still nervous about having him in the house with Charlotte so close by. She didn’t want to get herself caught up in minutiae with their relationship, but she expected Charlotte to honor her promise until her wedding.

Rog had just gotten home from work and hadn’t had a chance to shower or even change when Charlotte’s little orange car opened the gate from the road. He was proud of her, driving around town like she owned it, not fearing any longer.

Travis opened his door and walked around to open Charlotte’s door. He held his hand out for her, and she gladly took it, as he pulled her up to him. Bella ran excitedly to the couple, and hugged both of them. “Welcome home!” she beamed.

“Thank you, Bella,” Travis greeted her, holding a hand to shake.

“We’re all family here,” Bella giggled, pulling the young man into a hug and planting a kiss on his cheek.

Rog helped him bring in his bags. The rest of his belongings were three days behind them as the movers made their way to Starlight Shores. Charlotte pulled Bella aside before they reached the door.

“Mama, Travis and I had a talk while I was there. He wants to respect my promise, so we have nothing to worry about.” She spoke with much relief in her voice, and Bella was happy to hear it.

“That is fantastic, princess. I know that has to be a huge weight off your shoulders.”

She nodded, but in the back of her mind, the photo of the young girl that should have been Travis’ wife lingered. “It is.”

“And yet, something is on your mind, sweetie. What is it?” Bella saw right through her, and Charlotte was thankful.

“Come, let’s go somewhere private.” Charlotte started walking toward the garage, and Bella followed. She opened her bag and placed her dirty items into the washer and started it. “Mama, when I got there, he had a photo of a pretty blonde girl on his nightstand. I asked him who it was, and…” Charlotte swallowed a growing lump in her throat, “it was his high school sweetheart.” Bella frowned, and before she could speak, Charlotte did. “She was killed by a drunk driver 6 years ago when they were around 15 years old.” Hot tears rolled down her cheek. “He was… intimate with her, Mama. I had a feeling he had been, but to see her…” Bella held Charlotte as she cried. “It should have been her marrying him, not me.”

Rog came looking for them and found Bella holding a teary-eyed Charlotte. “Whoa, what is all of this?” He walked to Charlotte and lifted her chin, looking into her eyes. “What’s wrong, princess? Do I need to go beat up Travis for you, because you know I will…” He was half-joking.

“Travis had a picture in his dorm of his high school sweetheart. She was killed 6 years ago.” Bella left out the intimacy part. Rog didn’t need to know… yet.

Rog opened his arms and enveloped Charlotte in them. “Aww, baby girl, he is with you now. That’s all that matters. That boy, he is so in love with you.” He kissed her forehead.

“I know, Daddy,” she sniffled. “It was just hard to see her. It should have been her, not me.”

“Shh, you’re okay, Charlotte. He’s going to be wondering what happened to you. Go on inside and be with him. Help him get settled.” He hugged her once more and sent her to find Travis.

After she had left the garage, Bella stepped closer to Rog. “They were… physically involved. Travis and this mystery girl.”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Rog asked her.

“I think so.” Bella wiped her own tears away. “Please find out.”

The next morning, Rog dialed a familiar number. “Shores Private Investigations, this is Michael.”

“Hey Mike, it’s Rogelio St John. How are you this morning?”

“Well hi Rog,” Mike greeted. “I meant to call and congratulate you on your big win.”

“Thanks, Mike. I have another tiny problem if you could help.” Rog looked for the information he had written down.

“Sure thing! What’s up?

“Our daughter, Charlotte, is marrying a guy she met at school. They have been friends for about 4 years, but she learned something about him that makes me uneasy.”

“Okay,” Mike said, waiting to take notes.

“His name is Travis Jones, and he is from Dragon Valley. Bella said something about a girlfriend, killed in a drunk driving accident about six years ago. They would have been around 15 at the time. Could you see if there is anything we need to know about him and this girl?”

“Sure… thing…” Mike was finishing up notes. “I’ll run a cross-check on this today, I should know something by tonight. Are you thinking criminal again, Rog?”

“No, well, at least I hope not!” Rog rolled his eyes, “That’s all we need. No, I just want to see if there is anything about this girl that could come back and haunt Charlotte. I guess after Estevan, there is no such thing as too careful, especially with my only daughter.”

“Indeed, Rog. I’ll be in touch, and thanks!”

“No, thank you,” Rog said as he hung up.

A few hours later, his phone rang. “Hey Mike, were you able to find anything?”

“I found something that could possibly be of interest. The girl’s obituary. Her name was Amy Cohen, but the person charged with vehicular manslaughter had two counts against her. If there was no one else in her vehicle, which the police report doesn’t state there was, that can only mean one thing, Rog.” Mike paused as he flipped through the report quickly, double-checking his information.

“What’s the one thing, Mike?”

“Miss Cohen was pregnant when she was killed.”

Rog dropped his phone. He heard Mike calling his name as he fumbled to pick it up. “Mike, no!” he said as he finally had the handset under his control. “Say it isn’t true.”

“That’s my only conclusion, Rog. The police report doesn’t say, and I can’t access her medical records without a warrant.” Mike sighed. “I know this isn’t the desired result.”

“But it’s helpful, thanks, Mike. Please, don’t send the bill home. I don’t want Charlotte to find it.”

“Gotcha,” Mike said. “As always, Rog, it’s a pleasure. Call me if you need anything else.”

“Thanks, Mike, take care.” Rog hung up the phone.

He dialed Bella’s cell number. “Rog?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Hey, I called Mike McKinnon, had him do a check around on Travis.”

“Did he find anything?” Bella was nervous.

“He found the girl’s obituary. Her name was Amy Cohen, sixteen years old. So that part checks out. However, the woman who was charged in the accident had two counts of vehicular manslaughter.”

“Was there someone else in the car with her?”

“No, darling, not according to the police reports. Mike thinks she was pregnant when she was killed. It’s the only logical explanation.”

Bella fell to her knees. “Oh, that poor kid,” she said.

“You know we are going to have to tell Charlotte. Or force him to come clean about it,” said Rog. “He can’t carry that around with him indefinitely. It will eat him alive.”

“Tonight,” Bella said. “We’ll talk to Charlotte tonight.”

“She will be very angry, Bella. We should tread lightly.”

Bella walked through the kitchen where Travis was sitting, scouring the newspaper for help wanted. “This isn’t going to be as easy as it seemed,” he sighed, frustrated.

“There’s no hurry, Travis. You can take some time to settle in. Learn your way around.” Tell me your past secrets, she thought.

“Thanks, Bella.”

“Hey Travis, can I talk to you for a moment? A mother to son-in-law?”

“Sure,” he said cautiously. He hated these kinds of talks.

“Charlotte was pretty upset about a photo you had in your dorm room. She said it was a former girlfriend of yours.”

Sadness took over his face. “I thought this was all behind me,” he said with a deep sigh. “Her name was Amy. We started going together in middle school. Everyone wanted to be Travis and Amy. The envy of the school. Everyone just knew we’d be married someday, until the accident.” He wiped a tear from his eye. “A drunk woman, shouldn’t have been driving, she killed them.” His shoulders heaved as he relived the memory.

“Them?” Bella asked. “Was there another person in the car with Amy?”

“Not exactly,” Travis said. “Amy was 5 months pregnant with my son.”

“Oh, Travis, I am so sorry.” Bella’s first instinct was to hug him. “I couldn’t imagine.”

“It nearly destroyed me when they were killed. But then, I met your daughter. She pulled me out of my funk, and she made me want to live again.” He wiped tears away from his face. “For two years, I couldn’t do anything. All I could think about was my baby. My fiancée… How broken I was. Bella, I don’t know how I got through high school and into college. But Charlotte…” He paused, “she was so full of life, and vivacious, and beautiful. And crazy smart! I have loved her since I met her, but she was all, friends only.”

Bella smiled. What an incredible story he had to tell. At least, they didn’t have to tell Charlotte that her daddy was snooping behind their backs. “Thank you for sharing this with me, Travis. It means a lot to me, that you would tell me. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“It wasn’t, and I haven’t told Charlotte yet. Please, don’t say anything to her? I really need to be the one to tell her.”

“Of course.”

Bella texted Rog a simple message:

He told me the whole story.

Rog immediately felt at ease. His daughter’s instinct was good. Travis was a good man, albeit with a tragic past. But the rest of the day, he smiled and was happy.

Bella was so excited. It was finally Charlotte’s wedding day. What made it all the better for her, was when she realized she would be the first mother in generations to actually get to see her daughter be married. She didn’t meet Rog until well after Destiny and Arthur had both met the Reaper, and Bella was happy Charlotte didn’t have to do everything alone.

The wedding was beautiful and went off perfectly. Rog was so proud of Charlotte as he walked her down the aisle, and gave her away to Travis. They wrote their own vows, and Travis couldn’t wait to give her Bella’s wedding ring, which was far more extravagant than anything he could have bought for her. Plus, it had extra meaning, and Charlotte recognized the ring immediately, looking at her mother as Travis slid the ring onto her finger. She had no idea, and she was deeply moved.

Charlotte with her daddy, Rogelio

Bella’s favorite moment of the night was Rog’s dance with Charlotte. She wept as she watched their sweet dance, and it reminded her of their dates when she was little. Rog had a hard time containing his emotion through the night, and by the end of the wedding, both he and Bella were worn out, physically and emotionally.

As they settled into bed for the night, she cuddled next to him. “Thank you,” she said, twirling his hair in her fingers.

“For what, darling?” he asked.

“For everything.” She kissed him, and he turned out the light.


Up Next: Chapter Nineteen, Generation Three

G3 Chapter Seventeen – A Family Again

“Mama, we’re 2 hours out from home,” Charlotte said as the movers carrying her and Chris entered the county. “We’re going to stop for lunch and the next stop is home! Can you believe it?”

Bella had the house decorated to welcome her children home from college. They had graduated just days ago, both with degrees in science and medicine, both with full honors! She couldn’t be more proud of them. “Your Daddy and I are going to be right here, waiting for you to get home.” So much had happened while they were away, so much to fill Charlotte in on, but that could wait. The first thing Bella wanted to do was cover them in kisses and hugs.

“We’ll see you then, Mama!”

“Be safe, my loves.” Bella smiled and hung up the phone. Quickly, she dialed Rog’s cell. “Baby, they’re almost home. Two hours out,” she said as she recorded a message on his voice mail. “Hurry home!”

She put the last finishing touch on the cake and covered it. Chocolate with buttercream frosting, with Bella’s impeccable handwriting, which said “Welcome Home.” It was two years in the design and implementation, but the kids did all of the hard work. All she had to do was wait.

Rog’s car opened the gate as he pulled into the driveway. He walked from the car carrying packages for the kids, graduation gifts that he had ordered for them months ago. A new laptop for Charlotte, a new gaming console for Chris, as though he really needed a new one. And in two small boxes sat keys for two brand new cars. Charlotte hadn’t driven much since her accident, so Rog and Bella hoped she would be excited about the new wheels. They both knew Chris would be ecstatic.

She and Rog had discussed at length how much, and when they would tell Chris and Charlotte about the events of the past two years. Bella knew Jen had been in touch with Charlotte after their lunch together because Jen thought Charlotte should know. Bella couldn’t be angry with her but wished she would have left the disclosure to Rog and her. But Jen’s heart was in the right place.

“I’m expecting them any time,” Bella said as Rog opened the back door. “Is that everything?”

“It is, my love,” Rog replied. “I even wrapped it all!”

Twenty minutes later, the gate opened, and the moving truck pulled into the driveway. “THEY’RE HERE!” Bella yelled, almost ready to jump out of her skin. The truck had barely stopped when Chris was out the back door, running for Bella.

“Mama!” he cried, as she enveloped him in her warm embrace. Tears of joy streaked down both their faces, and she covered him in kisses.

“Chris, I missed you so much, baby boy.” She backed away from the embrace and held him at arm’s length. “You’ve grown so much! You’re not a little boy anymore!”

Charlotte came running, her backpack flung over her shoulder. “Mama!” she cried, running for Bella.

“Oooh, come here Charlotte!” Bella called to her, wrapping her arms around her daughter. “I missed you so, sweetheart.” Rog emerged from the house, and Chris ran for him, nearly tackling him with a hug. Then she moved closer and whispered, “I have much to tell you.” Charlotte frowned, but reading Bella’s smiling face, her frown dissipated.

“Daddy!” Charlotte spotted Rog and bolted for him. He had both of them wrapped in his arms, tears running down his face as well.

The movers, watching the touching scene, honked the horn. “I hate to break this up, but we have somewhere to be in half an hour.”

“Come on, kids. Help your old man unload this truck,” Rog said, and the three of them worked on emptying it and sent the movers on their way.

Bella had been cooking most of the day, making everyone’s favorite meals, and they sat down together and ate as a family for the first time in just over two years. The topic Bella couldn’t wait to hear more about was the friends they had made on campus. Charlotte looked misty-eyed when Travis entered the conversation. All the way home, she attempted to call him, but he just didn’t answer his cell. Chris shared how awkward it was to be so much younger than his classmates, but he outperformed all of them. Only a few from his study group came close to a 4.0 GPA, but none of them even graduated with honors. And then, there was Cade. Though they were good friends, their relationship was… complicated.

Charlotte and Bella cleaned the kitchen while the guys moved their boxes into the garage for the night. “Mama, are you going to tell me what went on here while we were gone?”

“Yes, honey, your dad and I are going to sit with both of you, but not tonight.” Charlotte seemed agreeable to that. She was tired, and she knew Chris had to be. A sleeper bunk in the cab of a truck was no place to travel for 3 days, and neither of them slept well. “We do have presents for you, though,” Bella teased. “When your dad and Chris are done, we’ll give them to you.”

The ladies were watching television when the guys came inside. It had started to rain lightly, and thunder rolled in the distance. “It’s a good thing we brought that stuff in tonight,” Rog said. “Do you hear it rumbling out there?”

“I do, and I agree.” She patted the cushion next to her for Rog to come sit, and Chris sat on the floor by Charlotte. Rog grabbed the gifts before he came to sit, and put them on the coffee table for the kids to open.

Charlotte grabbed the big, flat box and opened it. A laptop! “How did you know, Daddy? Mine is so old and beat up.”

“Because I’m a doctor, and I know how much you’ll use it,” he said, smiling. “It’s from both of us, you know.”

“Thank you, Mama and Daddy,” Charlotte said, hugging them both before sitting back down. Chris grabbed his big box and sat down.

“I feel like it’s Snowflake Day!” he said excitedly. As he ripped the paper, he spotted the box. “Wow, really? This is awesome!” He jumped up and hugged Rog and Bella. “Thank you so much!”

The big gifts were coming, and Bella and Rog were dying to see their reactions. Bella handed Charlotte’s box to her, and Rog, Chris’ box. “Open them together, on three,” Rog said, counting.

Both of them were shocked to see car keys in the boxes. Chris began to cry, excited that he got a car all his own. Charlotte’s reaction was a little more mixed. She hadn’t driven further than down the driveway since her accident, and part of her was afraid. She wiped tears from her eyes, and she and Chris both thanked their parents for their gifts.

“They’re parked at Jen’s house, so we’ll get them tomorrow,” Bella said, then noticed Charlotte’s face. “Are you okay, honey?”

She sniffled. “Yes, I’m just overwhelmed, Mama.”

“Well, you two have had quite the day. Why don’t you go on up, get cleaned up and head to bed for the night?” Bella kissed each of them on the forehead and sent them to bed.

She and Rog curled up in front of the fireplace, a bottle of nectar opened, and two glasses full. “For the first time in longer than I can remember, I feel truly remarkable,” Bella said, her head in Rog’s lap. “We’re all together as a family, I feel safe, and you are still here, loving me like it was our first day together. I’m truly blissful.”

He stroked her hair as he sipped on his glass of nectar. “Me too, darling.”

The next morning, Bella was making breakfast when the kids came downstairs. Rog was reading the morning paper, and they both had a big mug of coffee under their belt, working on a second. “Good morning, my babies,” Bella beamed. She handed Charlotte a cup of coffee, and both of them crepes, with freshly made fruit compote. Both of them devoured their meal, and sat back, talking together.

“Your mother and I need to talk to you both,” Rog said, motioning them toward the living room. They sat around, all facing each other. “Remember we talked to you a long time ago about Estevan, kids?” he asked, and they both nodded. Charlotte knew a little more than Chris, but they both remembered who he was, and why he was relevant.

“I’m not sure where to start,” Bella began, “So I guess I’ll start at the beginning.” They both nodded, Charlotte taking another sip of coffee. “Before you went away to school, Charlotte said something that inspired me. Remember, honey, when you didn’t cover your scar for graduation, and you said that you weren’t going to hide your past? Well, I took it to heart. I realized that when it came to Estevan and his whole mess, all I had done was hide from it, and I felt like a hypocrite. So, I went to see my lawyer, if you remember Nick? I made the mistake of going alone.” Bella swallowed hard and looked to Rog.

“Your mother had an appointment with him, so she went to get some advice. What she didn’t know was that Nick had other plans. He attacked your mother, but we got away.” Rog noticed Chris’ jaw clench and his temples throbbed. “She is okay, Chris, nothing happened. It could have been worse, but I got there in time to help her.” He eased his expression slightly, but his eyes remained fixed on Bella as Rog told the story. “So, this happened about 2 months after you guys left for school.”

Bella continued. “So, I did an exclusive interview with the news, and came clean about everything. My pen name, my reputation, what really happened with Estevan. And the most wonderful thing happened. Everything got so much better, crawling out from under the cloud, and things were really great for a while.” She paused to take a sip of coffee. “But your dad started having nightmares about my assault, and I did too.” Bella swallowed a growing lump in her throat.

“So he started poking around and hired a private investigator, who was looking into Nick’s background. This is about when I talked to Jen, maybe a little afterward, a few months maybe?” Rog nodded. “So, I went to see Jen, we had lunch together, because I wanted to see if she knew of an attorney who wasn’t affiliated with Nick, or could help me with some advice. Because we had literally no case to bring against a powerful, corrupt lawyer, and I needed someone with some expertise.”

Chris raised his hand and interrupted Bella. “What kind of case, Mom?” Bella just shook her head, unable to speak the words.

“Sexual assault, Chris. Nick tried to rape your mother.” Chris stood up, rage in his eyes.

“Where is he?” he demanded.

“He’s dead, Chris,” Rog answered. “We found out that Nick wasn’t named Nick at all, but was a hired hitman named Alexis Rockwell.”

“Who hired him, that scumbag Estevan?” Bella saw the anger building up, and she motioned to Rog to dial it back.

“Yes, Chris. Let us continue. We’ll cover all of this.” Rog spoke sternly. Chris sat down, his fists clenched.

“Anyway, we found out that Nick was hired by Estevan to terrorize us, and… “ he tried to think of a gentler, easier way to say it, but could not think of one, “murder your mother. While we were at the police station being brought up to date on all of this, ironically, they had gotten word that police in Strangeville had arrested Nick. I mean, Alexis. Even better news was that Estevan had been fatally wounded in a prison fight. He did not survive the day.”

“Why didn’t you tell us all of this?” Charlotte was angry. “He could have killed you, and we would have had a police officer show up on campus to tell us! Is that how you would have preferred we find out, Mama? Daddy?”

Bella tried to speak, but she couldn’t. “We didn’t want to worry you. Other than the meeting with Nick, no one was in danger.” Rog neglected to tell the kids about the trap door, on purpose. There was no need to make the situation any worse for Bella.

“Way wrong move, Dad.” Chris stood up to leave.

“You’re not going anywhere, son.” Rog blocked him. “We’re going to sit here and discuss this as a family. And you’re going to be respectful of your mother.”

Chris sat down and huffed at Rog. Charlotte shifted in her chair, not looking at either of them. Bella wiped the tears from her eyes. “I know this has to be rough to hear, Chris. But we truly did what we thought was best for you and Charlotte. I knew we’d get this reaction from you, I did. But I wouldn’t do it any differently if I had to choose all over again. It would have been a distraction from your studies.” She was aching inside to see her children so angry with her after she missed them for so long. “It was rough for me to hear, too. I threw up at the police station when they told me all of that stuff. I always knew he was crazy, but to hear that you are a primary target, and a hitman is after you, it’s devastating.”

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Charlotte said. “I can’t imagine how you must have felt.”

“You’ll understand someday, Charlotte, when you have children of your own. Your dad and I would die to protect you.” Rog rubbed her back, and she leaned her head against his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Mama. I just can’t stand the thought of you being hurt, and that bastard…” Chris’ voice drifted off.

“Well, I will tell you that Nick… Alexis, whoever… he was sentenced to death, and your dad and I witnessed it. I hope I never have to watch something like that again, but it was closure for me. I have made peace with it.”

“We are all safe, and this nightmare is finally over,” Rog added, reaching to pat Chris on the shoulder. That is what we wanted you to take away from this, Chris… Charlotte. Not anger, not dread or fear. But peace. Security.”

Bella spoke. “What I want you to take away from this, both of you. Choose who you date very very carefully. Don’t rush into anything, and take your time and get to know that person before you commit your heart. If I would have followed my Daddy’s advice, we might not be sitting here discussing this right now.” Bella sighed. “Come here, you two.” They both got up and hugged Bella, and she kissed their foreheads. “I love you both, so very much.”

“I love you too, Mama,” said Charlotte, now weeping.

“Me too, Mama,” Chris concurred.

About six months after Estevan’s death, Bella’s phone rang, the Caller ID was from Pleasantview.

“Hello?” Bella answered.

“Bella!” said the voice on the other end. “This is Eliza from Pleasantview Publishers. First, I want to congratulate you on your recent legal victory. The news has been far-reaching and I know consequential for you.”

“Thank you, Eliza. But I don’t understand the purpose of your call. I’m sure you didn’t call just to congratulate me.”

“You are very astute, Bella. We are interested in renewing the contract to publish Destiny’s Art. With your problems solved, we thought maybe we could move forward on this book deal, and make you famous throughout all of Simville.” She shuffled papers, reviewing the original terms of the book. “We would be willing to double your past offer, and pay royalties for 10 years instead of the original 5 years.”

“Wow, Eliza. This is a lot to process, but I don’t want to make a decision on this until I’ve had a chance to discuss it with my husband and family. The last time, I acted selfishly and paid a huge price. I don’t wish to make that same mistake this time.”

“I totally understand. Look, why don’t I put the new contract in the mail. Have your attorney look it over, and get back to us. No hurry.”

“Sounds good, thank you, Eliza.” Bella was guardedly happy. “I’ll be in touch.”

Rog came home from work before Charlotte, so they did not carpool together that morning. He was dirty and tired, and not in the best mood. But Bella had this news and she really wanted Rog’s honest opinion. This time, she would put her family’s interests first, and not think of her own.

He sat at the dining room and finished up paperwork he should have finished in his office, and rubbed his temples with his thumb. Bella walked up behind him and massaged his neck and back, and kissing him, hoping to relieve the tension.

“Hmm, darling,” he purred. “That feels incredible.”

“Come sit with me in the living room. I’ll even rub your feet.” She kissed the top of his head.

“Shoulder massage, foot rub, what’s going on, Bella?” he asked, suddenly suspicious.

“You know me too well,” she replied as she sighed. “Come sit anyway, and you still get the foot rub.”

He got up from the chair and they went together into the living room. He sat sprawled on the sofa, his achy, tired feet in her lap as she massaged them with capable hands. “So, what’s on your mind, darling?” he asked.

“I got a phone call today from Eliza at the publisher. I guess our good news has made the circuit. Anyway, they want to renew the contract for my book, Rog. I told Eliza I wasn’t making any decisions until we had a chance to talk, but I don’t think I’m going to do it.”

He sat forward, looking concerned. “Why not? There is nothing to hold you back now.”

“My first knee-jerk reaction was to say no thank you. I mean, I think the book is wonderful, and considering all of the time, love and energy I poured into it…” her words trailed off. If her book wasn’t released, then literally anyone else could pick up the offer, and they probably wouldn’t do as thorough a job as she did. “I wouldn’t want Mama and Daddy to be portrayed dishonestly.”

“That’s exactly why you should do it, Bell. Because it’s already written, you know exactly what is in it, and you’re not getting any younger, either. Neither of us is, darling.” His hair was already peppered with white, and Bella’s vain attempts to keep hers a flaming red were beginning to prove futile. In a few short years, they would be retirement age, and hopefully grandparents.

“Well, we can discuss with Sarah when the new contract comes. I trust her because Jen does.” The book and contract that accompanied had some pretty horrible memories attached to it, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to reopen old wounds for a little money they didn’t need.

“That sounds good, but Bella, darling. Please consider it. Think of all the good it will do in keeping their memory alive and well, for the next generation. For her fans. For our family.” She finished her foot rub and he pulled her to him, kissing her. “I love you so much.”

“Mmm, I love you too, babe.”

Charlotte and Chris got home from work around the same time, and when they sat down for dinner, Bella brought up the book.

“Are you out of your mind, Mama?” Chris asked. “After all the trouble that brought last time…”

Rog cut him off. “Chris, all of the trouble is gone. Estevan is gone. Alexis is gone. Her name is cleared and the book is written.”

“I think you should do it, Mama,” Charlotte encouraged. “Nana and Pop-Pop would want you to.” Bella knew Charlotte was right, too. They would have encouraged her, as long as the family would be safe.

“So it’s two votes for yes, and one emphatic no from Chris. My vote was originally no, too.” Bella twirled her hair around her finger. We don’t have a tie-breaker.”

“How about Jen?” Chris suggested. “Give her a call.”

“I’ll call her tomorrow. I want to see the contract before I seriously consider it. I just wanted your feedback. I’m still leaning toward no.”

Rog helped Bella clean up dinner dishes. “I really think you should give more thought to the book, baby. You have nothing to lose on it.”

“For someone who was so adamantly against the first attempt, your enthusiasm is confusing.” She hugged him and put her head on his chest. “I don’t want to do the wrong thing. I still don’t trust.”

“I get that.” Rog kissed her. “Well, your plan is good. Wait for the contract, then we can make a decision.”

“I can make another decision right now, though,” she said, taking his hand and leading him upstairs.

Charlotte and Chris had gone back to Sim State to visit friends for the weekend, and Bella put the finishing touches on her latest romance novel, compiled the file and emailed it to her publisher. Hopefully, she thought, this one will be the breakthrough bestseller I’ve been waiting for. Jen’s lawyer, Sarah, didn’t like the terms in the small print for the biography and advised against signing. Although Eliza made the offer sound appealing, Bella would have lost a considerable amount of money in the long run. Sarah also demanded they return the manuscript to Bella, as they hadn’t advanced her any monetary payment for it, nor had they given her any payments in kind. The book was 100% Bella’s property, and when they were threatened with legal action, they surrendered the manuscript without incident.

Chris’ phone number came through the Caller ID. “Hey Chris honey,” Bella greeted him. “What’s on your mind? How’s it going with Cade?”

“Mama,” he said, “She wants to come back with me. She has no life here, and I can’t stand the thought of her staying where she won’t flourish.”

Bella wasn’t surprised to hear his request. Rog had thought this would be the end result of their trip. “I don’t have a problem with her coming back here, sweetie pie. We can fix up the loft for her.”

“Until we get our own place,” Chris added. “Mama, she’s so different. I love her.”

“I’m not surprised, son,” she answered. “We’ll see you all tomorrow night. Travel safely, Chris.”

She looked at Rog. “He’s bringing Cade home.”

He smiled. “I knew that boy was in love. He was far too sassy, too over the top.”

Bella nodded. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

The next evening, Bella and Rog fully expected to see four of them walk through the door, but Travis couldn’t leave school until his degree was finished. But both of them came home with renewed purpose and crazy blissful. They were so happy to meet Cade and loved her instantly. She got herself a part-time job waiting tables at the Flying V Coffeehouse, even though Chris told her she didn’t have to. At the tender age of eighteen, he was already wise and responsible beyond his years, with a good job earning a decent salary. Cade adored him, that much was apparent, and he lavished his love and attention on her when he wasn’t working to support them.

Bella took Cade shopping in the city shortly after she arrived. She came to Starlight Shores nearly penniless, with just a few personal items, and the clothes on her back. Luckily, she and Charlotte were close to the same size, but she really did need clothes of her own. So Bella took Cade for lunch and hit the boutiques on the strip, getting her everything she needed, including some pampering at the spa. They bonded over nails, hair, and clothing, and Bella couldn’t adore her anymore if Cade was her own daughter. And she guessed she probably would be soon enough if Chris had his way.

Bella took the old ring from the chest and looked at it. She had long ago stopped wearing Destiny’s diamond engagement ring when Rog had given her the anniversary band. Now, it sat in her jewelry chest, unworn and seemingly unloved. She opened the clamshell box, and put the diamond and Destiny’s gold band into it, and slid them into her purse. “Cade, I’ll be back in a while, honey” she yelled to her, and Bella left.

“Hello Mrs. St John!” the clerk greeted her. “How can I help you today?” Bella reached into her purse and retrieved the diamond wedding set.

“I need to pick out a new, more contemporary setting for this stone,” she said, pulling out the 2-carat diamond ring. The clerk had never seen such a large diamond in this condition. “I’m giving it to my son, to give to his girlfriend.”

“How exciting!” the clerk beamed. “Here, any of these bands would fit a stone of this size and clarity. This one in particular, though, will make the colors look like it’s on fire.” She pulled out a setting with diamond chips on either side of the solitaire. “This ring here has the same setting.” She pulled out a ring with a much smaller center stone, but Bella saw the difference in the fire of the stone immediately.

“That is the one, my dear.” She handed the ring to the clerk, who set the order up and gave her a claim check. “On this band, we’re just going to polish it up. Make it look new. “

“Absolutely, Bella. Both rings should be done in two weeks, but I’m thinking because you’re such a great customer, he’ll have it done closer to one.” She winked at Bella. “We don’t want to keep that beautiful, young, lucky lady waiting longer than she has to.”

“Chris doesn’t know I’m doing this. This was my mother’s wedding set.” Bella wiped a tear from her eye. “I can’t wait to see the look on her face. She’s such a lovely young lady, and Chris adores her.”

“You can’t ask for more than that, Bella.” She smiled.

“Thanks again, and call me when it’s done.” Bella waved and left the store.

A few days later, Bella’s phone rang. “This is Cheryl at the jewelry store. Your rings are ready, Mrs. St John.”

Cade was working the lunch/dinner shift at the coffeehouse and was scheduled to work a show in the early evening. Taking the opportunity to get out of the house, Bella drove to the store to pick up the bands. Three thousand simoleons later, and the rings were back in her possession. She admired the diamond’s setting and thought Destiny’s diamond never looked more beautiful.

When Rog returned home from work, she pulled him into the bedroom. “Rog!” she whispered loudly. “I need you.” He raised his eyebrow and followed her upstairs.

He closed the bedroom door behind him, locking it, a romantic aura in the air, when Bella looked at him oddly. “No, I don’t need you that way, silly.” She giggled at his dejected look. “Okay, but later. First…” she opened up the ring box and showed off the set.

“Isn’t the anniversary band good enough for you?” He looked a little hurt.

“This isn’t for me, Rog,” she said, faking exasperation. “I am giving this to Chris, to give to Cade.” He took the ring from the box and slid it on to his pinky finger.

“Wow, you did a great job picking this out for her.”

“The only part that’s new is the setting. The diamond was Mama’s.”

“I thought that looked kinda familiar. You sure giving her a 2-carat ring is wise?”

“Have you been living in this house, Rog? Don’t you see how they look at each other?” Bella smiled. “They look a lot like us, babe, hopefully without the physical part yet.”

“I know, but she’s…”

“What? From a poor family? I know. Not sure what that has to do with anything, but your son loves her.” Bella was giddy with excitement. “I can’t wait to see his face when he sees this.”

About an hour later, Chris poked his head into the master bedroom, always with his eyes closed. He didn’t want to see anything he couldn’t unsee, so until he knew he was clear, that was always his strategy.

“Come in, silly boy,” Bella said, patting the bed next to her. Rog was sitting on the floor, not worried about how he would get up.

“Chris, I know it’s inevitable that you will end up marrying Cade.” She took the ring and placed it in his hand, closing his fingers around it. “I want you to give this to her.” He looked at the ring, stunned.

“Mama, this is so extravagant.” He studied it, recognizing the large stone she used to wear for years. “Are you sure about this?”

“Of course I am, Chris. This was your Nana’s ring, by the way. I had the stone set into a prettier band. You can also have Nana’s wedding band when you need it. I’m guessing things will move quickly once you’re engaged. It’s all ready, too,” she said, with the ring on her own finger.

He hugged her and took the diamond ring. “She’ll be home soon!”

Cade came through the door at 7pm, tired and sore. She had been on her feet since 11am, and she couldn’t wait to sit. Bella, Rog, and Charlotte were sitting in the living room, awaiting her return from work. Chris descended the stairs, dressed better than casually. Cade looked around at everyone and felt uneasy.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Absolutely everything,” Chris said, his eyes sparkling. He always felt amazing when she was around. “I know that we always assumed we would get married. Why don’t we make it official?” He knelt on one knee, and opened the ring box, revealing the huge diamond that Arthur had given to Destiny years ago.

“Oh Chris,” she said, starting to cry.

“Cady, would you marry me?” He slipped the ring on her finger and stood up.

“YES!” she squealed. “Yes, I would love to marry you!” She was openly crying, and Charlotte had a video call with Travis in the background, so he could watch. Cade and Chris embraced and kissed.

Bella cried, and Rog held her. “Okay,” Rog said, “Let’s give the lovebirds some space.”

Bella turned and kissed Rog. “I’m so happy, my love.”

“Me too, darling,” he replied. “Me too.”


Up Next: Chapter Eighteen, Generation Three

G3 Chapter Sixteen – Bella’s Peace

Rog left early for work the next morning. He had an important phone call to make, and he didn’t want Bella to be worried. The lunch with Jen had been invaluable, even though poor Bella was still recovering from it. Rog also worried about Jen’s safety, hoping she didn’t unwittingly blow the lid on a huge conspiracy. Estevan could no longer be dismissed as a harmless lunatic. He meant business, and quite frankly, Rog was petrified.

He had no surgeries scheduled for that morning, fortunately, so he went into his office and closed his door. Dialing the number for Shores PI, his heart was pounding out of his chest.

“Shores Private Investigations, this is Michael.”

“Mike, Rog St John.” He cleared his throat and took his first sip of coffee.

“Hey Rog, what can I do for you this morning?”

“I wanted to call you yesterday, but my wife was… sick, and needed me. I have some information for you that you might not know.”

“I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and check out any emails regarding your case, but I’ll take the information down. Shoot.” Mike said, readying his notebook.

“My wife had lunch with her former agent two days ago, and she had some information about Nick Fournier. Bella mentioned to her agent that she was consulting with Hal Fournier’s son, and I guess she told my wife that Hal and his wife never had children.”

Mike dropped his notebook. “Well, that’s quite a development, Rog. I have a contact at the PD, I’ll have him run Nick through the system, see if we get a hit on his real identity, and we’ll see if we can get a warrant to look through his office. This would be probable cause, and I don’t think a judge would deny a warrant for this.”

“Bella paid a huge price for this information, so I hope it leads us to the end of all of this. I’m starting to fear for her and my safety, and the kids. Oh, the kids!” Rog made a note to call campus police after the phone call.

“I’ll be in touch, Rog. Thanks again!”

Next, Rog dialed the campus police captain. “Sim State Campus Police, this is Eric.”

“Eric, my name is Rog St John. My children, Charlotte and Christopher are students there. Look, a situation has come up at home, and I have reason to believe they might be in danger. Is it possible to have someone keep an eye on them? I’m willing to hire extra, money is no object when it comes to my wife’s babies. Anything to protect them.”

“You might be better off with a private security company, Mr. St John. We just don’t have the staff for this type of thing.”

“It wouldn’t be for 24/7 monitoring. They have a security system in their house. I just want to make sure they aren’t harmed. It would destroy my wife if someone were to hurt them.”

“I can assure you, Mr. St John, our campus is patrolled and safe. My own kids walk the streets of the campus safely.” Yes, but your kids aren’t targets of Estevan Best, either, Rog thought.

“Thank you anyway, Mr?”

“Jordan. Eric Jordan.”

“Please, take my cell number, in case there is a problem. And please, don’t call my wife if something happens. She’s fragile right now.” He read off his cell number to Eric Jordan, thanked him and disconnected the call.

The phone was ringing as Bella was reading her book. Charlotte’s number appeared on the Caller ID. “Hi, honey!” Bella beamed. The weekly phone calls from the kids were her favorite thing these days, and reminded her that she had a reason to fight.

“Hi, Mama!” Charlotte sang on the other end. “Just checking in, and letting you know we’re doing well.”

“How’s your brother? Tell him I miss him bunches.”

“Here, tell him yourself. He’s right here.” Charlotte handed the phone to Chris.

“Hi Mama,” Chris said happily. “I miss you so much!”

“Happy birthday, little man!” Bella chirped. “Seventeen, going on, forty?” Chris laughed.

“Nope, seventeen going on seventeen.”

“I wish your Dad and I could be there, sweetheart. We’ll make it up to you when you get back home.”

“Just a few more months,” Chris said, excited about the prospect of going back. Though he had Charlotte with him, he missed home, his friends and his parents. “Charlotte wants to talk to you again, Mama. I love you and I miss you!” Chris said as he handed the phone back.

“Okay, I’m back,” Charlotte replied. “How have you and Daddy been, Mama? I’ve been hearing some stuff, and it doesn’t sound good.” Bella froze. How did she possibly find out what’s been going on back home?

“Oh, we’re doing just fine princess,” she lied, and Charlotte picked up on it immediately.

“Don’t lie, Mama. I hear it in your voice.”

“Is your brother around? Did he hear you ask me that??” She did not want Chris to worry about her.

“Don’t worry, he went outside to play hacky sack. It’s just us, but I’ll go up to my room, so it’s more private,” Charlotte replied as she climbed the steps to her room.

“Sweetie, I don’t want you to worry. It’s just a little problem with my lawyer. Nothing we can’t handle.” Bella lied again, wanting to hide the truth from her until they had a definite answer and solution.

“That’s not what Jen said, Mama.” Charlotte was adamant about getting the truth.

Bella sighed. “It’s too complicated to explain on the phone, love. Just know that I am okay, your dad is okay. That’s the important part.”

Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Okay,” she finally relented. She knew Bella was stubborn, and when she didn’t want to talk, there was no dragging it out of her.

“I promise I’ll tell you when you’re home. Just, not on the phone.” Charlotte understood.

“I hate to cut this short, but I need to make dinner and get homework done. Travis is coming for a study group tonight.”

“Oh, how is Travis? How are you two getting along?”

“We’re just friends, Mama.” Charlotte blushed.

“Okay, honey, I’ll talk to you next week. I love and miss you!”

“Love you, Mama,” she answered. “I miss you more.”

Rog dialed Jen Crawford’s number, for two reasons. One, he wanted to check on her. He worried about her since the revelation at Bella’s lunch date with her a few months back, and two, he wanted to see if he could get her table at The Tower for a special dinner with Bella. It had been a long time since they’d been out together, and they needed some feel-good time. He knew Bella loved it, and he knew how Jen felt about her.

“Jen Crawford Agency, this is Jen!” her perky voice answered.

“Jen, Rog St John.”

“Well, hey! To what do I owe this honor, Doctor?”

“Bella needs some fun time, Jen. I was hoping you could let me borrow your table at The Tower this week at some point. Tonight, tomorrow.. Doesn’t matter.”

“For you guys, any time!” Jen beamed. “I’m not using it tonight, so go ahead! Do you want me to have it set up like the last time?”

“No, no need for the extravagance, I just want to take her for a special dinner. We need this desperately.” Rog was tired of fighting and wanted to forget, if only for a night.

“I’ll do it anyway. My treat!” Jen was excited. Rog never asked for favors, so she was happy to spoil her favorite couple.

“Thanks, Jen. I owe you a few.”

“Nonsense,” she replied. “I love you guys.”

They hung up the phone, and Rog was happy. He opened his texting app and sent a message to Bella.

Bella, my love,

I have a table at The Tower tonight for dinner, courtesy of Jen. Meet me at 6pm.

Waiting to see you, Rog

Bella got the message and immediately started thinking about what to wear. It was a long time since they had been anywhere in public, but she felt safe with Rog, and especially at The Tower. She sent a quick message back.

My sweet Rog,

I’ll be there. I can’t wait.

All my love, Bella

She nursed Art’s old speedster downtown to The Tower and had the valet park it. The young man looked at the antique car and admired it. Rog tried to keep it in tip-top condition, but the engine was showing signs of age. Excitedly, the young man hopped into the car, handing her the claim check. She walked inside, past the hordes of potential patrons to the host station.

“Bella St John, guest of Jen Crawford,” she told the host.

“Ah yes, Dr. St John is already here, awaiting your arrival.” He took her arm and escorted her to the table. Rog stood when she approached and took her hand.

“Thank you,” he told the host and held her chair for her. “Darling, you look simply elegant tonight.” Her dress was sapphire blue, fitted and simple, but classic. Her hair had been pulled up into a ponytail, which fanned out. She looked like a movie star.


“Thank you, Rog. You are just drop dead gorgeous all the time.” She smiled at him, flirting. He smiled back, holding her hands.

He ordered a bottle of sparkling nectar, and a small appetizer to share while they perused the menu. The waiter returned quickly with two crystal champagne flutes and popped the bottle. “No wine for Monsieur et Madame tonight?”

“No, thank you. This will be fabulous.” The waiter poured the nectar and set the bottle back into ice to chill.

Rog picked up a glass and swirled it. Bella picked up the other and raised it for a toast. “To everlasting love, unending, and unconditional.”

“Here here!” Rog agreed, and their glasses clinked together. Taking a sip, his eyes widened. “Oh my, this is some good stuff!”

“Mmmm,” Bella replied. “Oh wow, it is!” He sat across from her, staring into her violet eyes, and she laughed. “Is it the musk again?” she teased.

“I didn’t even notice it tonight,” he said. “I’ll have to pay closer attention.”

They sat talking, excited for the children to be home from school in less than 6 months’ time. But they were also aware Charlotte and Christopher could be walking into a snake pit if they didn’t get things figured out soon. The last thing either of them wanted was to expose their precious children to the current situation.

“Have you heard from Mike recently?” Bella asked.

“They’re still working on a warrant for Nick’s office, but I am guessing it’s more complicated than Mike made it seem.” Rog tasted the nectar again, enjoying the sip.

“If they don’t hurry, there might not be anything left to find.”

The waiter brought their dinner, with an extra side from Jen, and a note:

Try this, you won’t be disappointed!

Love, Jen

“I’m going to call Mike in the morning. I guess I need to be more proactive than I’ve been, especially since we’re up against time.” Bella nodded, tasting the calamari Jen had sent.

“Ooh!” she exclaimed. “You have to try this!” She picked up a piece and fed it to Rog.

“I know what it is, but it doesn’t taste like squid,” he said. The morsel was so tender and delectable, it nearly melted in his mouth.

They slowly enjoyed their meal and took their time. Neither wanted the evening to end, or go back to the nightmares that waited for them.

When they were finished, and Rog had paid for dinner, they walked to the valet to retrieve her car. He had walked from the hospital, so they were leaving together in the same car. The young man who parked the car retrieved it and handed the key to Bella, who handed him the slip. Rog gave the boy a generous tip and held the door for his wife.

They drove home and parked the car in the garage. He sat, finally able to smell her musky perfume, and smiled. “Now, I smell it,” he said. She looked at him and blew him a kiss.

“I know you love it,” she said, flirting. He leaned and kissed her. “Let’s go inside, babe,” she suggested.

“I’m right behind you.” They walked hand in hand into the house, up the steps, and to their bedroom.

Rog had meant to call Mike the next morning, but instead, a call from Starlight Shores PD rang his cell phone.

“Dr. St John, this is Detective Sherman from the Shores PD. I want to let you know we are taking over for Mike McKinnon at Shores Private Investigations. This is now a criminal investigation, as we have discovered some information about Alexis Rockwell, or as you know him, Nicholas Fournier. We have a warrant to search his office, and we have ordered security for your family here in Starlight Shores. Please tell your wife to alert the department if she needs to leave your home alone, and she will have a security detail.”

All the information was freaking Rog out. “Are we in imminent danger, Detective?”

“We have no intel that suggests you are. These are just precautionary steps to keep your family safe.”

“What about my children? They are at Sim State, and one of them, my son, is only seventeen years old.”

“Not to worry, Doctor. We will contact the city police and inform them of the situation.”

“Could you do me one favor, Detective? Please, don’t let them know they’re being protected. Our son doesn’t know about any of this, and my daughter… Well, she will worry. I don’t want this to affect their schoolwork. They’re almost finished, and…”

“Don’t worry, Dr. St John. We have it covered. They won’t even know we are there.”

“Thank you. I need to talk to my wife. Maybe we’re close to being done with this nightmare.”

“We will need a statement from her regarding the assault, Dr. St John, the sooner, the better.”

“I understand. I’ll arrange it today.” Rog thanked the detective and hung up. He grabbed his briefcase and car keys. “If you need me today, I have my cell and my beeper. I need to be home right now,” he told his staff and drove home to be with Bella.

Bella was running on her treadmill when Rog came home early from work. She saw him come through the door out of the corner of her eye and stopped her run. She was sweaty and smelled awful, but she ran to greet him anyway. “Hey love,” she greeted, “why are you home so early?”

He gave her a peck on the cheek, making a funny face and laughing. “You stink,” he said. She took his hands and led him to the shower.

“Let’s fix that right now.”

When they were finished showering, they got out, wrapped in towels and sat on their bed. “Okay, now what’s the real reason you’re home early, Rog?” she asked, drying her hair. “I know it wasn’t to get some lovin’…” she joked.

“That was a nice perk, but no, you’re right,” he said. “I got a call from Detective Sherman from Shores PD. You’d remember him. He responded to that letter I got from Estevan.” She nodded. “Well, they are taking over the case from Mike at the PI office. They found out Nick’s real identity, and they are executing a warrant as we speak for his office. They also need a statement from you about the assault, darling.” He was hesitant to tell her about the security, as he didn’t want her to panic. But, he knew he had to, for her own protection. “You and I will also have security detail for awhile. The kids, too.” Her eyes widened in fear. That was exactly the reaction he wanted to avoid.

“The kids? Are they in danger, Rog?” There was a panicked urgency in her voice.

“No, darling, they have no information that suggests any of us is in danger. It’s just precautionary.” He tried to soothe her, but he knew once it involved the children, it was the point of no return as far as worry.

“Rog, what if…” she started to cry.

“Shhh,” he soothed. “Don’t even let yourself go there. They will be fine.”

“He can kill me, but he better not hurt my babies.” She was approaching hysterical. He held her tightly, and let her cry it out.

He helped her get cleaned up and they drove together to the police department, where she gave a sworn deposition about the assault. Rog was there to hold her as she was forced to relive it in excruciating detail. The detective thanked them both and told them they would be in touch as soon as something was discovered.

A few days later, Rog received a call from Detective Sherman. “Rog, I have some big updates on this case. It would be better to hear this in person, so if you wouldn’t mind coming down to the station, and please bring Mrs. St John. She will want to be here for this.”

“Thank you. We will be down shortly.”

Rog and Bella arrived at the precinct and were shown into the captain’s office. Joining them were the two detectives that were working on the case, with a box of files pertinent to Estevan and Alexis. “We’re just waiting on one more person. Can I get you something to drink, Mrs. St John? Doctor?” the captain asked.

“I’m fine,” answered Bella, “but thank you. And please, call me Bella.”

“I’m good, too, thank you,” said Rog.

Five minutes later, the door opened, and Jen Crawford entered. “Miss Crawford, please have a seat. We’re ready to start.”

“I want to make this as understandable as possible, so I’ll try to explain myself, but I also want to be brief,” the captain began. “Thanks to a tip by Miss Crawford, we finally have found Alexis Rockwell, who has been wanted in three cities for crimes ranging from grand theft to murder. According to city records, Fournier and Son LLC was never established as a legitimate business and has no record of any official business operations. He was able to access the office, maintain the phone number, and he was ordered to lay in wait to carry out a hit. For this reason, Rockwell is considered a person of interest in Mr. Hal Fournier’s death.”

The captain turned an overhead projector on, referring to a slide. “We have traced all of this activity back to one man: Estevan Best. Rockwell was a prison friend of Mr. Best, and it is believed that Rockwell was paid money from the Best estate to perform a hit on Bella and terrorize her immediate family. Your sisters and parents were never mentioned in any of the files. Bree and Bianca are safe. However, there is nothing in the case files that mentions anyone but Bella Atwood. It seems you were always the primary target.”

Bella turned white and felt ill. “Rog, I’m going to be sick.” The captain handed Rog a bucket, into which Bella vomited. For the next few moments, there was little talking while Bella dealt with the news. “What about the children?” she asked, “Charlotte and Christopher?”

“They are safe, Bella. The Sim State city police department detectives have been keeping close tabs on them, from a distance, as requested by your husband,” the captain assured her. Rog rubbed her back gently as she rocked in her chair, sick with worry.

“We also have some forensic analysis from Rockwell’s law office. You are a very lucky lady, Bella. Someone was watching over you that day. Careful inspection of the office revealed that the door was equipped with a deadbolt lock that could be triggered by a switch, installed under his desk, similar to a silent alarm. This mechanism failed to engage the day of your assault. Had Rockwell been able to engage that lock, it’s almost certain you would have perished. We also found duct tape, rope, gags and other assorted… items, at the office, along with a cubby hole or an escape hatch in the floor behind the desk. We aren’t sure what his intended purpose was for that.”

“You mean,” Rog asked, “The only reason I was able to save Bella that day was because something malfunctioned?”

“Yes, that is correct,” affirmed the captain.

Rog began to shake, but he wasn’t sure if it was emotion or rage. “This is just too much to handle.” Bella was in his arms, weeping uncontrollably, and Jen sat totally dumbfounded, but it finally made sense to her why she had never heard of Nicholas Fournier.

A knock on the door revealed a detective outside. “Captain,” he said, peeking his head through the closed door, “I have some news. May I speak with you for a moment?”

“Would you excuse me, please?” the captain asked, and stepped outside.

Rog hugged Bella close and tried to comfort her. “Are you okay, my love?” His nightmares were not far off reality, and the actuality of her dire situation that day made him feel nauseated. Keep that bucket nearby, he thought to himself.

“I knew he was after me, but to hear this… it’s overwhelming.” She sniffled and took a deep breath.

Jen dabbed her eyes, sniffling. “Let me know how I can help you guys,” she offered. “You know I love you.” Bella smiled and took Jen’s hand, giving it a squeeze. The door to the room opened quickly.

The captain returned, sounding jubilant. “We have great news! We have confirmed that Strangeville police have Alexis Rockwell in custody. We are extraditing him back here to Starlight Shores to face charges for enough crimes to keep him locked up for life. We also have word from the prison in Strangeville that Estevan Best was taken to the hospital last night with stab wounds inflicted in a fight. He is not expected to survive, as he was badly injured and his condition is critical.”

Bella stopped crying long enough to talk. “Does that mean…”

“We believe your ordeal is finally over, Bella.”

Alexis Rockwell arrived at the Starlight Shores police department two weeks later, and they called Bella and Rog to identify him in a lineup. There was no mistaking his face. Bella knew it intricately and saw it nearly every night in her nightmares. Or, at least she did. Since Estevan Best’s death, her nightmares ceased.

“He is number 3, officer.” Bella pointed directly at the man who assaulted her, the man she knew as a friend, Nick Fournier. Rog pointed out the same man in a different lineup, but he thought of this man as no friend, but a mortal enemy.

Rockwell admitted to everything. He confessed to the murder of Hal Fournier. That he had been paid by Estevan Best to keep an eye on Bella, and when the timing was right, to take her out. He confessed his plan had been to rape and murder her, though he had only been contracted to kill her. At his arraignment, he plead guilty to all charges, and the judge ruled the case to go directly to sentencing.

Rog and Bella sat in court and watched as Rockwell was sentenced to death, and cried tears of relief. They were present when the lethal injection took his life four weeks later. Bella took no joy in either man’s death, but at the same time, she was grateful it was them, and not any member of her family, that met the Reaper. Jen Crawford hugged her longtime friends and treated them both to a celebration at The Tower. Over dinner, the three of them laughed and cried, remembering the past 23 years of torment at the hands of Estevan Best. And at long last, it was over.

Up Next: Chapter Seventeen, Generation Three

G3 Chapter Fifteen – While The Kids Are Away…

He raced through the halls searching for her. But Rog could not find Bella anywhere, though her faint cries echoed softly in the distance. The catacombs became darker and the doorways smaller, but he had to find his love. Bella was in danger, and time was ticking away.

Carefully, he walked the corridors, going by feel, and moving toward Bella’s cries. He turned a corner, and finally, at the end of a long corridor, a light! Her cries grew louder. “Bella!” Rog yelled frantically. “I’m coming to find you!” but his words were swallowed by some unseen force before they left his lips. He ran down the hall at breakneck speed, but it seemed he was running in slow motion, almost against time itself.

“Rog! Help me!” she begged him.

Suddenly, the booming voice of a man, a familiar man, a friend, stopped Rog in his tracks, and an icy chill ran down his spine. “You’re too late, ‘Doctor’,” it shrieked. “You’ll never find her body!” Then the sound of evil laughter…

“No no no! Bella! I’m coming for you, my love!”  His pleas were desperate.

He heard a sickening cry uttered in terror… followed by one of agony… screaming… screaming… and then nothing.

“BABY!!! NO!!!!”

Rog sat up in bed, drenched in sweat, his heart pounding. Sleeping sweetly beside him was Bella, safe and secure at his side. This was the third such nightmare that night, and he was tired of hearing screams when he closed his eyes.

He got up to pee and then turned the computer on in Chris’s old room. In the search engine, he looked up one name: Nick Fournier. Just ten hits on his name alone were returned. Curious, he clicked on a link, and an innocuous-looking website appeared before him. Back on the browser, then another link. Fournier and Son LLC Law Firm. That’s the one, thought Rog. He clicked on it and it was a closed link. Damn.

Since the incident with Bella and Nick, he was haunted by nightmares of what would have happened to her if he’d been three seconds longer, or couldn’t get to her at all. What bothered him was why Nick was such a lecher when his father had been such a great family friend. Nick used that family tie to gain Bella’s trust, only to breach it in the most sinister and vile way possible. Except, he didn’t succeed. Only in Rog’s worst nightmares. And with a powerful attorney like Nick Fournier, it would be difficult to bring these types of allegations without something concrete. When he couldn’t sleep, Rog was on his laptop, trying to find the real reason he was being haunted in his dreams.

Nicholas, of course! Rog thought. I should try his full name. Nicholas Fournier was entered into the search engine of his browser. That search was much more fruitful for Rog and helped him to at least begin to form a pattern of violent behavior towards women, even to the point of sexual abuse. Rog copied the website and put it in his briefcase for morning. If the nightmares wouldn’t end on their own, he at least wanted real-life justice for his sweet Bella.

“Charlotte! Oh, is it ever wonderful to hear your voice!” Bella sang as her daughter spoke on the other end of the line. “How is college? How are your classes? Tell me everything!”

Rog smiled. She looked so forward to the weekly calls from the children, though, he supposed, they weren’t children any longer. Empty nest syndrome had hit Bella harder than she thought it would, and she was back to feeling the house was just too big for the two of them. But Rog loved their life in this house, and was in no hurry to go back to the bungalow by the park.

Bella handed the phone to Rog, so Chris could get some advice. She finished gathering laundry to wash and started the first of three loads. Even though it was just the two of them, they still had the same amount of dirty linens and clothing. “You can hang up,” she said as she walked back through the dining room to sit down.

Rog caught a whiff of Bella’s musky perfume, which she had just started wearing. She smelled so good, he had to follow her into the formal living room to sit with her. She giggled when she saw him, looking like a schoolboy who got caught being up to no good. Gently, she patted the cushion on the sofa, and he joined her.

He moved closer and took a breath in, soaking in her scent. She giggled harder, ”What in the world are you doing?” she laughed as he sniffed her skin.

“It’s that new musk you’re wearing, darling,” he said. It’s intoxicating, sensuous…”

“You don’t have to play anymore, you know. We have this All. To. Ourselves.”  She stretched out on the sofa, inviting him.

“No, it really is the musk. I promise!” He smiled slyly at her. “But, if you’re inviting, I’m knocking.”

“May I speak with Rog, please?” the voice on the phone asked.

“Speaking. Who is this?“

“Rog, this is Mike from Shores Private Investigations. You left a voicemail yesterday. I am returning your call.”

“Oh yes, thank you for returning my call so quickly.” Rog covered the phone with his hand and whispered, “I have to take this,” and walked into his office and closed the door.

“What can I do for you, Rog?”

“About 2 months ago, my wife had an appointment with Nicholas Fournier, are you familiar with the firm?”

“Mr. Fournier’s name has come up on more than one occasion, yes.”

“Nick, I mean, Mr  Fournier, tried to sexually assault my wife. I say tried because I responded to a text that she sent saying he had been acting oddly, and she was afraid. Mike, if I had been just 10 seconds later, I don’t know if I could have saved her.” Rog could still see him trying to undress her, restraining her, and it made him sick.

“What is it you need from me, Mr. St John?”

“I need to know if there are any complaints, any allegations, any proof that this man has a history of sexual assault or violence against women. Because without that, it’s two people against a powerful, corrupt lawyer. What chance would we have?”

“I see your point, Rog. I can’t promise anything because those types of things could be sealed or protected with the help of a corrupt judge, but I’ll poke around. See what I can find, if anything.”

Rog nodded. “Thank you. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s the only one we have right now. I appreciate it.”

“I’ll be in touch,” Mike said, and hung up the phone.

Rog left his office, feeling hopeful, but not optimistic.

Bella was preparing dinner when he pulled into the garage and he walked through the door. He admitted that he missed seeing the kids doing homework, and roughhousing after school. He was starting to wish they’d had another little one at home.

“Smells amazing, Bella,” he said as he walked to her, wrapping his arms around her. She smiled sweetly.

“Thank you, my love,” she replied. “It’s your favorite.” Chicken teriyaki stir fry. The chicken was marinating and the veggies were resting on the counter as she wiped it down. She turned around and faced him, still in his embrace. They shared a tender kiss, and he stroked her cheek.

“You just get more beautiful as time passes, you know that?” She loved his adoring expression.

“I can’t forget it, Rog,” she said, swooning at him,” You remind me every day.” His phone rang, and it was Mike from the PI office.

“I need to get this, darling, I’ll be right back.” Walking into the spa room, he closed the door.

“Hello?” Rog answered the ring.

“Mr. St John, Mike from Shores PI, how are you today?”

“I’ll be better if you say you have something for me.” Rog was hopeful.

“I might have something for you. I keep seeing phone records connecting to Strangeville, but I’m not sure if there’s a connection there. Is there a significance to that, Rog?”

Estevan? “We do know, kind of, someone at the prison there.” Rog stroked his chin. “I’m not sure how that would even connect, but he is a weasel. Nothing would surprise me at this point.”

“I’ll keep looking into that connection then. Also, we might have some luck with surveillance footage from the building on the day in question. Mr. Fournier has no control over the video in certain parts of the building, those are kept centrally.”

“Excellent job, Mike,” Rog said. “The person of possible interest in Strangeville is Estevan Best.” And then silence on the other end of the phone.

After a few moments, Mike returned. “That name is infamous in my part of the world, Rog. If your wife is involved with him, she is most unlucky.”

“Crazy ex-boyfriend, emphasis on crazy.” Rog’s blood was beginning to boil. If Estevan had anything to do with the assault, he might go kill him personally.

“I have to tell you, Rog, I’m expecting there to be a link between the two men. I don’t want you to be shocked,” he advised.

“Nothing would shock me anymore. He’s been a thorn in our side our whole married life.” Rog thanked Mike and hung up.

“Who was that, sweetheart?” Bella sang from the kitchen, the sound of sizzling chicken coming from a very hot frying pan.

“A colleague,” he lied. It wasn’t time to tell her just yet. She was already having her own nightmares, and she didn’t need any more of them. The answer seemed to satisfy her curiosity, and he was thankful. He hated lying to her more than he hated Estevan Best.

Nick, please, don’t do this…  When I see something I like, Bella, I take it, the voice echoed…. Please, Nick… I have children. What about your wife? What about her, the voice said…  She struggled against him, but he was too strong, too powerful. He leaned to kiss her, and she held her breath… No! You can’t!! He pinned her on a desk, bent forward.  He can’t hear you, the voice told her. By the time he finds you, it won’t matter… Her heart pounded… he raised his hand to her…

“NO!” she screamed, sitting up in bed, crying. Rog, who had been awake in the other room, came running when he heard her.

“Oh darling,” he soothed her, “not again.” He sat on the bed and held her.

“I want the dreams to stop, baby. I want to not be afraid.” Bella was shaking as though the assault had just taken place.

“I’m working on that, my darling.” He kissed her forehead and hugged her tightly.

“How?” She swallowed, trying to stop crying and blew her nose. Her head felt as if it would explode.

“I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure. But I have been in contact with a PI, looking into Nick’s background. He might have something we can use.” He gently brushed her hair from her face. “There might be a connection with Estevan, but the PI isn’t sure yet.”

Slowly, her temper began to boil. “I am sick and tired of that man controlling our lives, even though he sits and rots in a prison a thousand miles away… “ her words trailed. “It needs to stop, Rog.”

“I know, love,” he tried comforting her. “Hopefully soon.”

Knowing that Rog was already in the works with a private investigator, she thought she would try to find a legal counsel that wasn’t connected to either the Best family or Nicholas Fournier. She, like Rog, couldn’t believe that Hal’s son would be so dirty. She had the utmost respect for his father, but she wondered how deep the connection went, and if Hal wasn’t involved somehow. Now, she would never know.

On a hunch, she dialed a long-familiar number. “Jen Crawford Agency, this is Jen!” answered the perky, lovely voice she missed so much.

“Hi Jen, it’s Bella!”

“Bella!” Jen squealed into the phone, and Bella held the phone from her ear while Jen giggled. “How are you? It has been way too long!”

“We’re good, the kids are at Sim State, Rog is awesome,” Bella giggled. “You know how we’re always saying we should do lunch together?”

“Oh my goodness, YES! Finally!” Jen screeched. Her energy was too much for Bella, but she laughed anyway.

“How about tomorrow?”

“It’s a date! Oh, Bella, I’m so excited!”

You might not be tomorrow, Bella thought. “I can’t wait, Jen! I’ll bring pictures of the kids.”

They hung up the phone, and she felt better. If anyone could help her with this and had the connections, she knew Jen could. It was Jen, after all, who helped Rog get reservations at The Tower for their anniversary. She was better connected than a public cell phone charging hub.

The next morning, Bella drove to The Tower, where Jen had reserved her own table, the very same one where she and Rog had spent their 20th anniversary, to meet her for lunch. She was so very happy to see Bella, and hugged her, not really believing their long-proposed lunch date was finally happening.

“So tell me, Bella,” Jen started, ordering a bottle of wine for the table, “how is your wonderful life?” Jen crossed her legs and kicked off one shoe, making herself totally at home and comfortable. “I mean, you have a gorgeous husband, beautiful children, a perfect life! I’m so jealous.”

“Well, it’s almost perfect Jen,” Bella said. “The first two parts are accurate. Rog is…” she smiled, “a hunk, and the kids are awesome.” Then she shook her head. “The rest, I’m afraid, hasn’t been so idyllic.”

“What’s wrong, and how can I help?” Jen’s happy face turned serious as she saw the concern on Bella’s.

“You remember Hal Fournier, right? The lawyer who helped us get rid of that loon I used to date.” Bella wrung her hands, trying to keep her voice low.

“Yes, I do, lovely old gent,” Jen commented. “I was sad to hear of his passing.”

“Me too, more than you realize. His son, Nicholas, has been helping me with my legal issues since I started writing the Charlotte and Chris books.” Jen’s face went white.

“Bella…” Jen said, “Hal didn’t have any children. He and his wife always wanted them, but she couldn’t bear any.” Suddenly, Bella felt violently ill. Seeing her friend’s face, Jen became afraid. “What? What’s wrong, Bella?”

She felt dizzy and pushed her chair from the table. “I’m sorry, Jen. I just need to use the restroom.” She made it to the toilet in time to vomit. Shaking, she sat on the floor, trying not to cry. Instinctively, she called Rog, but got no answer.

You have reached Dr. St John. If this is an emergency, please dial my beeper. Otherwise, please leave a message.  

“Rog,” she said into the phone, frantic. “Call me as soon as you get this message!” She hung up the phone, got up off the floor and walked to the sink to wash her hands and face. Jen opened the door to the ladies’ room and saw Bella, still looking pale and ill.

“What is it, Bella? What did I say that caused such a visceral reaction from you?”

“Let’s go back out and sit, where it’s comfortable,” Bella suggested. Jen took her arm and helped her back out to their table.

After they sat, Jen poured a fuller glass of wine for both of them. She had a feeling they would need it. “When I needed legal help, for my first book contract, I called Hal’s office but found out he had passed away. Someone who claimed to be his son, Nick, told me he had taken over for his father. I mean, the office looked just like it did the last time I was there with Hal, except for a painted portrait of him hanging over some fake fireplace.”

Jen nodded. “He looked at my contracts and advised me on them, he never took a penny, saying my beauty was payment enough. It sounded just like something Hal would have said, so I didn’t think anything of it.” Bella took a sip of wine. “When I was contacted by a large publisher to write my Mama’s biography, I took the contract to him to check it over. Everything he said and did seemed legitimate.”

“Then, when I decided to go public with my announcement, I went to his office to get his advice and tried to get a feel for what to expect, from a legal standpoint. Jen, that man tried to…” Bella paused, her voice cracking, “if Rog hadn’t come when he did, I might not be sitting here with you.” Jen shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. “I think he intended to rape and kill me, Jen.”

Jen took a long sip of wine, finishing the glass. “This is unbelievable, Bella. I’m so sorry. How can I help?”

“Do you have a lawyer that you trust implicitly? Someone who can help me? I don’t know where to turn anymore, who I can trust. But I know I can trust you, Rog and my kids. Outside of that, I’m done.”

Jen scrolled through the contacts on her phone and scribbled down a name and phone number. “This is my personal attorney. Sarah will absolutely be able to help you. Oh honey,” Jen cried. “I can’t tell you how much this grieves me. I’m so sorry.” The waiter appeared at the table. “I think we’re going to need another bottle of wine.”

Bella was going to call a taxi to get home after her lunch date since she was in no condition to drive, but Jen’s limo graciously brought her home. She stumbled to the house, shamelessly intoxicated. Waving to the limo driver, she locked the gate behind her and fumbled with her key. The phone began to ring.

“Of course,” she slurred, pulling her cell from her bag. “Hello?”

“Baby? What’s wrong? I just got your message.” Rog was frantic.

“I need you, Rog. Please come home,” she said.

“On my way.”

Ten minutes later, Bella was still trying to unlock the front door to her house. Rog saw her fiddling with the door, and ran to help her. “Oh my,” he said, taking her arm, “you reek of wine.”

“That’s because I had lunch with Jen at The Tower,” she mumbled drunkenly at him.

“Did you drink your lunch? Bella, I’m surprised at you!” He wondered what could have happened during their meeting to make her drink like this. Noticing she was having a rough time walking, he picked her up and carried her to the sofa, where he placed her gently. He walked to the kitchen and started a pot of strong coffee, and walked back to where he had placed her. She had slumped on the sofa, resting comfortably. Suddenly, her eyes opened, and with no warning, she vomited all over him, retching violently. “Oh darling,” he said as she got sick on the floor. “You don’t hold your liquor well at all, do you?” He rubbed her back as she settled down, and collapsed back on the sofa.

“I don’t feel well,” she said. “Maybe I should have eaten something.” He laughed, but picked her up, and brought her to the downstairs shower inside the spa room, and hopped into the shower with her, cleaning her hair, face, everywhere that got splashed with the contents of her gut. She could barely stand, but threw her arms around his neck to give him some leverage so she wouldn’t fall.

He wrapped her in a towel and carried her upstairs, placing her on the bed. “Is your tummy feeling better, darling?” he asked, leaving a small bucket with her before he went back to clean the colossal mess she had made in the living room.

“Yeah, I just want to sleep,” she said, drifting off. She curled up on the bed, still wrapped in her towel, and fell asleep. He kissed her cheek, and covered her with a blanket, and went back downstairs.

Rog picked up Bella’s phone and dialed Jen’s number. “Hey, Bella!” she greeted.

“Jen, this is Rog. What the hell did you do to my wife?” He was furious that she would allow Bella to get that intoxicated, and then just leave her to fend for herself outside their front door.

“Whoa, wait a minute there. I didn’t do anything to her except buy her lunch, which she happened to drink. But I made sure she got home safely. You’re welcome,” she snipped.

“Your driver left her at the door and didn’t even make sure she got inside. She was sitting outside on the step when I got home, and I don’t know how long she was out there by herself. You know the Shores isn’t safe for her! What happened to make her do this, Jen? She never gets this drunk, ever. Why did she want to see you?”

“I’m not sure I should be the one who tells you, Rog.” Jen’s office phone rang in the background. “Look, I need to go. I’m sorry my driver left her with no help. I’ll address that immediately. Call me later if she still isn’t well, and we’ll talk.”

Rog grabbed the mop, cleaner, and the wet vac, and began to tackle Bella’s mess.

The next morning, Bella called for him as he sat and read in the kids’ old room. “Ooh, I feel awful,” she said, her head pounding.

“You should,” he replied. “You were pretty drunk. I almost thought you had alcohol poisoning.”

“Was I bad, Rog?” She walked to the bathroom and recoiled at her reflection. Dark circles under her bloodshot eyes. Ashen, pale skin, and a terrible taste in her mouth, much worse than normal morning breath.

“There was a bit of a mess downstairs, but I cleaned it.” He sat her down on the bed and then sat beside her. “Do you remember your meeting with Jen yesterday?”

Her memory was fuzzy in parts, but she remembered why she became intoxicated to begin with. “You know how we thought Nick was Hal’s son?” Rog began to nod, and then stopped.

“Wait, what do you mean, ‘we thought?’”

“It turns out, Hal and his wife had no children, Rog.” Bella’s head throbbed, and she felt woozy.

“Oh my goodness,” Rog said. “If he isn’t Hal’s boy, then who is he?”

“That, baby, is the million-dollar question.”

Up Next: Chapter Sixteen, Generation Three

G3 Chapter Fourteen – The Awakening

“Charlotte Destiny, it’s school time,” Bella yelled from the kitchen. Since the family meeting, she had been cold and distant with Bella, and it was getting old. Despite the numerous explanations and apologies, the relationship between them remained strained.

“I’ll be there when I’m good and ready!” Charlotte screamed.

“You’ll come NOW, young lady!” Bella was at her wits’ end with Charli and her attitude, but she felt powerless to change it.

“Make me!” Charlotte taunted, remaining defiant, fairly confident that would end the conflict. She was wrong. Bella’s angry footsteps made their way to her bedroom, but she was thwarted by a locked door.

“Charlotte, open this door, NOW!” Bella yelled. Then she remembered the door in her bedroom, which locked from their side. She quietly tiptoed into the master bedroom and opened the door. Charli had been outsmarted.

“Mama, I’m sorry,” she pleaded, trying to weasel her way out of punishment.

“Too late,” Bella yelled. “You’re grounded, two weeks.” She picked up Charli’s backpack and nearly threw it at her. “Get your butt to school. And you’d better go, because you’ll just make life more difficult for yourself if you don’t.”

Charli gathered her bag and jacket. “I hate you,” she sneered at Bella.

“I’m sorry to hear that.  I love you.” Bella swallowed back tears of frustration.

After Charli left for school, Bella texted Rog.

Baby, we need to talk about Charlotte. I can’t handle her anymore.

After school, Chris came home on the bus, and Bella was expecting Charlotte home around the same time. She had been allowed to drive her car that morning because she had missed the bus, but her driving privilege would be revoked while she was grounded. But 2 hours after Chris came home, Charlotte still wasn’t home.

“Was your sister at school today, Chris?” Bella asked as he worked on his history assignment.

“I didn’t see her, Mom. But that isn’t unusual. We don’t have the same classes.”

“Thanks, Chris.” Bella was furious. She dialed Charlotte’s phone number and got no answer. “Your sister is in deep trouble.”

An hour later, the gate opened, and Rog’s car drove into the driveway. Walking through the door, he greeted Bella with a kiss. “She’s still not home, baby,” she told him, starting to worry.

Rog’s temper immediately flared. “I’ll go looking for her, and she’d better hope I don’t find her.  Enough is enough of this garbage.” He went upstairs to change his clothes, and got into his car, on his way to look for their daughter.

Driving through the streets of Starlight Shores, he hit a traffic jam on the main strip, Los Sueños Drive. Flashing lights and people gathered; Rog got out of his car when he recognized the remains of the white car they had given to Charlotte on her 16th birthday. Now running, he was frantic by the time he got to her. Charlotte sat on the back bumper of an ambulance, with a crowd of paramedics around her.

“Please let me through,” Rog demanded at the police barricade. “That’s my daughter.” He ran to her and asked the paramedics to let him see her. “Sweetheart, are you okay?”

“She only has minor injuries, Mister… ?”

“Doctor… St John. Rogelio St John. I’m her father.”

“Just some small cuts and lacerations from broken glass, we don’t think she has any glass embedded, a few contusions. She will be a little sore, but nothing serious. She is lucky to be alive,” the EMT said to him, pointing toward the wreckage.

Rog glanced at the car, and it was destroyed. The front end was demolished, and it sat upside down on the street. “What happened?”

“From what we can tell, someone turned in front of her. She couldn’t stop in time. She wasn’t at fault. We will know more when the investigation is complete, but we don’t anticipate charges.”

Charlotte was crying as she gave her statement to the police, and she was released to Rog, knowing he was a doctor and could monitor her at home for signs of shock and concussion. Together, they walked back to his car, and he drove them home.

Bella heard the gate open and rushed outside to greet Rog. The passenger door opened, and Charlotte got out, sporting bandages on her face and blood on her clothes, and Bella’s heart sank. “What happened?” she asked him.

Charlotte ran to her mother, sobbing, “Mama, I’m so sorry.” Bella held her as she cried.

“She was in a bad accident by the Hoi Polloi. Some guy pulled out in front of her, and she nailed him. The car is totaled.” He walked to Bella and Charlotte, hugging them both. “The officer and paramedics both said she’s lucky to be alive.”

Bella hugged Charli close. “Are you okay, sweetheart?” Charlotte sobbed as Bella held her, nodding.

“Mama, I’m so sorry for the way I’ve treated you. I thought I was going to die in that accident, and all I could think of is that I’d never get to see you and Daddy again…I thought I’d never get to say I’m sorry.” She sniffled, and Bella helped her wipe away tears.

“You’re forgiven, sweetheart. But you’re still punished for skipping school today and not coming home when I told you that you were grounded.” Bella kissed her head. “But we’ll talk about that later.” Bella examined her daughter’s bandaged face. “Oh sweetie, I’m so thankful you’re safe.”

Charlotte adjusted her makeup to cover the scar on her face from her accident. Bella was finished ironing her graduation gown and laid it carefully on the bed. On the cap, Bella had written in beautiful calligraphy, the word “Blessed,” at Charli’s request.

“Turn around, let me look at you,” Bella said. Charlotte turned around, and Bella checked her concealer coverage. “I can’t see it, sweetie. You did a good job hiding it.”

“Thank you, Mama,” Charli answered, and then thought twice. “You know what, I’ve changed my mind,” she announced as she went into the bathroom to wash her face. “I don’t want to hide my past.” Bella stopped in her tracks. It was probably the best and most profound advice she had ever gotten, and it came from the mouth of her 18-year-old daughter.

“I can’t believe my baby girl is all grown up!” Bella cried, wiping happy tears away. “I’m so proud of the young woman you’ve become.” Charli’s accident had made her grow up all too quickly, and wise beyond her years. Bella helped her into her gown, and then fastened the cap on her head, and fixed her hair afterward.

In Chris’s room, Rog was preparing him for graduation, too. Chris, who was a certified genius, was graduating three years early and was already accepted to Sim State. School was never much of a challenge to him, and he worked his way through the curriculum in no time, earning the credits needed in less than 2 years.

“I feel too young for this Dad,” he said as he adjusted his gown.

“You’ve earned it, son,” Rog encouraged. “You’re much too smart to be held back in high school here.”

He fixed the cap on his head, which had been sitting askew. “Thanks, Dad. I’m going to miss you and Mom while I’m at school.”

“We are so proud of you, Christopher.” Rog hugged his son and wiped a tear away. “We will miss you, too.”

Chris was the youngest student to ever earn a diploma at that high school, and was given a special award to commemorate the achievement. Charlotte easily earned Valedictorian and was voted “Most Popular” by her classmates. Her valedictory speech was about living in the moment, and not postponing dreams. All of her classmates knew about the accident that changed her life, and all of them considered her speech to be the most inspiring one they’d heard. Bella and Rog were right there, taking pictures and cheering them on, and sharing tears of joy.

Charlotte and Chris were leaving the following Monday for Sim State, so the family spent the weekend together, making memories. Rog did a cookout pool party for them as a send-off, Bella invited all their friends and everyone had a great time. The next day, the kids spent packing clothes and personal items for the trip for Sim State. Both of them knew they would be returning home to live, at least for a little while, after their graduation from college, so many things were left behind. Besides, they would be home between semesters for break. Charlotte was pursuing a degree in medicine, to follow in her father’s footsteps. Chris was waiting to declare his degree until after his first year was completed unless he figured it out before then. Both had sizable scholarships based on their previous school performance, but the tuition, room, and board still took a sizable portion of the family savings.

The next morning, the van arrived to take the kids and their boxes of stuff to college. Bella hugged each of them and cried.

“I’m going to miss you so much, baby girl,” she said to Charlotte as they embraced.

“I’ll be okay, Mama, and I’ll call every week,” Charlotte replied. “I’m going to miss you!”

“Come here Chris, and hug your Mama,” she said to him, holding her arms open for a hug. She kissed his cheek and whispered, “Remember, even if you make mistakes, we will love you. I’m going to miss you, little man.” She sniffled as they broke their hug.

Rog hugged both of them together and kissed them. “You two be good, remember your promises, and call if you need us. We are always here for you.”

“We will,” they answered in almost near unison. “Bye-bye!” They piled into the van and waved to their parents as the truck pulled away.

The last royalty check arrived for the last children’s book she had written years prior. Charlotte’s statement echoed in her ears as she deposited it to their account. “I’m not going to hide my past.” Bella realized that was all she had ever done, and she felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite. She and Rog had always encouraged their children to accept responsibility for their actions, but Bella ran from hers her whole adult life.

“Baby,” she said to Rog as they ate dinner together, “I’ve been thinking about something since the kids’ graduation.” Her face was serious, and he was concerned.

“What about, darling?”

“Charlotte said something profound while she was getting ready that day. I can’t get it out of my head. It’s like, her words are convicting me.”

“What did she say, love?” Charlotte had never been known for her deep thoughts.

“We were doing her makeup to cover that scar on her cheek. We had it perfect, and then she washed it all off, and said she wasn’t going to hide her past.” Bella shook her head. “Baby, that’s all I’ve ever done. Run and hide from my past.”

Rog nodded. “I can see why that would bother you, but don’t let it. You were justified. Estevan proved himself to be a maniac.”

“I’m tired of running, baby.” She sighed. “We always taught the kids exactly the opposite of what I’ve done my whole life. I’m a hypocrite.”

“You had good reason, darling,” he replied. “It’s hard to protect little ones with people like Estevan around. No one, not even the kids, will fault you for that.”

“What if I just want to come clean? Get all those skeletons out of my closet, once and for all.”

“Have you really considered what that means? How that will affect your life? Our lives, Bella.”

She nodded. “I have. It means that I can finally either clear my name or go back into hiding for the remainder of my life. Look at how much we’ve lost because of that monster.” Not only the settlement from the lawsuit years ago but the potential life-changing income from the biography. She had some privacy and her anonymity, but at huge cost.

“If you really want to do this, I will support you. Maybe,” he said, thinking, “maybe you’re right. Facing the beast head-on might do some good.”

“Thank you, love,” she replied. “I’ll need all the support I can get.”

“Fournier Law, this is Nicholas, how can I help ya today?” Nick greeted on the other end of the phone.

“Hi Nick, it’s Bella St John, how are you?” she greeted.

“Hey beautiful!” he gushed at her. “What can I do for my favorite girl?”

Bella was blushing. It’s a good thing Rog couldn’t hear him. He already didn’t trust Nick that much, and that exchange would have sent him over the brink. “I need a favor.”

“For you, my dear, anything!” She could almost hear him smiling.

“Are you free today? Say, an hour or so from now?” She heard him shuffling papers, and fumbling with the receiver of the phone, which had slipped from his hand.

“Oops! Sorry, Bella. I dropped you! Of course, I have time, but only if it’s quick.”

“I don’t need much of your time,” she told him.

“Then I’ll see you in an hour.” As he hung up the phone, he thought to himself, Alone, I hope.

The speedster arrived at Nick’s office 45 minutes later. Grabbing her purse, and a huge dose of courage, she took the elevator to the penthouse firm. The secretary pointed her toward Nick’s office. Approaching the door, she nervously checked her reflection in the mirror that hung in the hallway over a large potted plant. Gently, she knocked on the door.

“Come on in, Bella my sweet!” Nick said as he opened his arms for a hug. In his warm and overly friendly embrace, he planted two kisses on her cheeks. Then, touching the small of her back, he guided her to a chair and motioned for her to sit.

“That was quite the welcome, Nick,” she said, embarrassed.

“Nothing is too good for my Bella Mia.” She was suddenly uncomfortable, and her hands began to sweat.

“Anyway,” she said, hoping to change the subject, “the reason I’m here. I need to make a public statement, as a town socialite and celebrity.” She made air quotations around the word celebrity.

“What kind of statement?” Nick asked.

“I want to clear my name, once and for all, Nick. Whatever it takes to stop running from the rumor mill, and from Estevan’s shadow.” She rubbed her hands on her jeans, hoping they would stop perspiring.

“Um, that’s not a good idea, Bella,” Nick replied. “First, you have your books…”

She interrupted him. “I got my last royalty on that one yesterday, so that’s a non-issue.”

“Well, there’s your children…”

She interrupted him again. “They’re away at college, and they’re safe.”

“Well,” he replied, “you certainly have thought this through.”

She nodded. “I have, Nick. My daughter said something to me that I can’t get out of my head. She told me she wasn’t going to hide her past. But that’s all I’ve ever done. I can’t do it anymore, Nick.” She was fiddling with her phone, then set it down in her lap.

He stood and walked around his oversized desk. “I understand, Bella. But you know, Rog… well he can’t protect you.” Nick sat on his desk, right in Bella’s personal space.

“Yes, in fact he can, Nick.” Bella pushed her chair back, looking for a quick exit.

He reached for her where she was seated and lifted her out of the chair. She noticed how freakishly strong he was. Holding her tightly, he looked right into her eyes. “Not like I can.”

“Let me go, Nick. Please, don’t do this,” she pleaded with him.

“Do what, Bella? When I see something I like, I just… take it.” His face was close to hers, and he kissed her forcefully.

Flailing to get away, she tried to scream, but she couldn’t. She scratched at him, hit him and before she could punch him, he grabbed her hands and held them. “Ooh, you’re feisty!” He licked his lips, holding her captive. “I like feisty women!”

“You won’t get me without a fight,” she warned.

“We’ll see about that,” he growled. “I’m bigger and stronger than you.” He moved closer and she backed away until she was against the wall of his office. He pressed himself against her, trapping her completely, one hand working on unbuttoning her jeans as he kissed her repeatedly and forcefully.

“No, Nick, please…” she begged.

Rog burst through the door in time to see Bella at Nick’s mercy, helplessly restrained. “Hands off her, or you’re going to have a huge problem.” Nick let his hold on Bella loosen and turned around, and she wiggled away, running to Rog and hiding behind him. She hugged him and started to cry.

“What are you going to do, doctor? Take my temperature?” Nick taunted him, but Rog stood his ground. “You don’t deserve her,” Nick spat. “She needs a real man, not a spineless worm like you.”

“Too bad for you, she’s mine,” Rog replied. “You touch her again, and I will hurt you. Badly.” He turned to Bella, and said, “Come on, darling.”

They left the office without saying a word to the receptionist and got on the elevator quickly.

“I’m so, so sorry I went alone, Rog,” Bella cried, shaking like a leaf. “Now I know why you don’t trust him.”

“Shh, it’s okay darling,” Rog said as he held her. “I’m glad you texted me when you felt weird. I came as fast as I could. Much later, and I might have been too late.” The thought made him physically ill.

The television was on the local news channel, and they awaited the evening broadcast. Bella was nervously pacing back and forth, wringing her hands.

“What if I made the wrong decision, Rog?” she asked, worried.

“You’ll know tomorrow, baby. But I have your back,” he replied, hugging her. “Together, we’ll deal with it.”

The lead into the 6pm news flashed across the screen, and the headline was an exclusive interview with Bella Hill. She felt sick and sat down. The interview was done, and there was no going back.

“Coming up next, our exclusive SSN interview with Bella Hill, daughter of singing legend Destiny Hill.”

Rog rubbed her back as she swayed in her chair. “You’re going to be okay, my love.”

“I hope so, baby.”

During the interview, she explained the history of bad blood between her and Estevan Best, and the threats of violence against her family that landed him in prison for the rest of his life. She revealed that she was the writer behind the wildly popular “Charlotte and Chris” children’s books, and that they were written about her children when they were little. The interviewer asked why she chose to do a reveal publicly.

“Well, my daughter, who recently went off to Sim State, said to me, ‘Mama, I’m not going to hide my past.’ Her words cut me to the heart, and I realized I had been doing exactly that for nearly 25 years. I don’t want to hide anymore.” Bella’s voice on the television sounded garbled to her, and she felt woozy.

“Rog… catch…” was all she managed to say before she fell to the floor.

Rog picked her up and held her in his arms, trying to wake her. When she finally roused, she said, “Is it over?”

“Yes, darling. The broadcast is over.” He inspected her head, checking for bumps or bruises. “Are you okay?”

“I think so,” she said, rubbing her knee. The phone rang.


“Bella? Hey, it’s Jen!” Jen Crawford’s cheery, peppy voice greeted her.

“Well, I’ll be!” Bella exclaimed. “How have you been, Jen?”

“I’ve been fantastic. I just watched your interview, Bella. It was a brilliant move! The city is atwitter talking about you, and I’ve heard nothing but good things!” Jen was genuinely happy for Bella.

“Really, Jen? That is wonderful!” Bella nearly jumped out of her skin in excitement.

“You done good, Bella. Congratulations for finally shedding that burden. I bet you feel tons better, and lighter.”

“You have no idea. My baby girl, she inspired me. I really love that kid.” Bella beamed with pride.

“We’ll have to get together for lunch soon! So much to catch up on. I have to run, but I wanted to be the first to congratulate you!” Jen and Bella hung up the phone shortly afterward.

“Rog! Jen says the news is good on that interview!” Bella did a fist pump and tried to jump, but her knee reminded her she had fallen on it. “Ouch!”

“That is great, darling!” Rog replied. “You did it!”

The newspaper the next morning had articles about the interview, and not one pundit in the city had anything bad to say about Bella. The truth was finally out, and the community finally believed it.

“I should have done this years ago, Rog,” she said, after reading the tenth article about her interview. “All those years, all that money… all those unnecessary fights.” She sighed.

He hugged her close. “That’s the past, just like all of this. Let it go.” He kissed her.

“You’re right, as always.”

“I’m glad you recognize my excellence,” he teased. She gently shoved him and stuck her tongue out at him. They laughed and breathed easy for the first time in 22 years.


Up Next: Chapter Fifteen, Generation Three

G3 Chapter Thirteen – The Estevan Effect

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.


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.


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:


“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.”

“It won’t.”

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

G3 Chapter Twelve – The 20th Anniversary

Rog got up early before his shift at the hospital and worked quickly to place items around the house. Long stem roses on the dining room table. Cards with sappy love poems. And a note left upon his pillow with a single lily. That one, however, was the last one placed before he hurried out of the bedroom, knowing its sweet aroma would wake her.

Six o’clock AM. His shift was beginning in less than an hour and he heard the kids upstairs in the shower. Not much time, he thought. I need to get out of here! He grabbed his car keys and locked the house door behind him.

Upstairs, Bella’s alarm clock was chiming. Sleepily, she pressed a button on the clock and the chiming ceased. In the next room, Chris and Charlotte were chattering but their speech was unintelligible. She noticed Rog had already left, but in his place was a single white lily and a note in an envelope, his familiar handwriting bore her name: “Bella, my love.” She opened the envelope carefully and read the note within:

On this day twenty years ago, you made me the happiest man in the world by marrying me. Our life together has been more than enough. I love you more than I can express.

Happy Anniversary, my darling.

All my love, Rog

“Oh no!” she said out loud to no one at all. “I forgot!” She kicked the covers off and stood straight up. Quickly, she put his comfy robe on and headed downstairs to make breakfast for Chris and Charlotte, who were bickering about who knows what. As she hit the bottom step she noticed the roses on the table. Her heart melted but a wave of guilt swept over her.

“Eggs, flour, milk, vanilla, baking powder, butter, and bananas,” she muttered as she gathered the ingredients to make banana pancakes. By the mixer was a card with her name on it. Wiping her hands on a towel, she opened the card.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Words can never tell you,
How much I love you.

Dreaming of you,

Smiling and feeling even guiltier, she continued mixing the batter. The griddle was hot, and she poured the first cake as Charlotte arrived in the dining room.

“What are the flowers for?” she asked.

“Today is our wedding anniversary, Charli.” Bella wiped the counter nervously. “And I forgot!”

“Oooh!” Charlotte taunted. “You’re in trouble!”

“Well, I have all day to remedy it and I have some ideas myself.” Bella flipped the cakes over. They were a perfect golden brown.

“Mmm, that smells good Mama,” Chris announced as he descended the steps. “Flowers?” he asked as he walked toward the table.

“Mama forgot their anniversary, Chris,” Charlotte teased and they both giggled.

“Okay, you’ve had enough fun at my expense.” Bella laughed and served up the first four cakes. Working quickly she poured another four into the hot griddle. “Come eat, guys.”

After the children had left for school and she had finished cleaning the kitchen, she went upstairs to shower. On the vanity sat another card.

Thoughts of you surround me
You’re the beating of my heart
The love you give defines me
My life is no longer dark.¹

All my affection,

She wiped tears of joy from her eyes as she undressed. As she stepped into the shower she cried openly, still not comprehending the love she had for her husband. When she was done, she wrapped her hair in a towel and made her way to the bedroom to get dressed.

She walked past by the dining room table and noticed the card attached to the flowers. Trembling, she reached for it to open it.

The passion between us is strong
Ferocious to those that see
The feelings that are shared between us
My love for you and yours for me.²

I’m Forever Yours,

She shook her head. “I don’t deserve this man,” she said to the butler, Gilbert, as he appeared in the foyer after retrieving the morning paper.

“I noticed, Mrs. St John,” he said, pointing toward the flowers. “He must love you immensely.” Gilbert set the paper on the counter and began gathering laundry.

“That he does, Gilbert.” She took her keys from their hook. “I’m heading into town for a bit. I’ll be home soon.”

When she reached the garage, she stopped in her tracks. Her car was bursting at the seams with red balloons. Laughing, she opened the car door, and they began escaping, filling the garage. I hope Gilbert doesn’t clean this up, she thought.

Her first stop was the jewelry store. The clerk greeted her. “How can I help you today?”

“I’m looking for a ring for my husband,” Bella told her. “Something with diamonds and sapphires, our birthstones.”

“I think I might have just the ring,” she told Bella. “This way.”

Bella approached the case and saw the ring of which she spoke. It was breathtaking, a diamond solitaire in the middle, surrounded by blue sapphires and smaller diamonds. It sparkled like the sun. “It is beautiful,” she remarked.

The clerk opened the case and handed the ring to her. “Here, you can have a closer look.” Gingerly, Bella took the ring and slid it onto her own finger. It was way too big for her, but she knew that Rog’s ring finger was just a bit bigger than her thumb.

“This is how I can tell if it will fit him,” she explained, sliding the ring onto her thumb. It fit her exactly how his wedding band did. “This will be perfect! I’ll take it!”

The clerk looked surprised. Bella never even asked the price. “Are you sure, Ma’am? It’s over §3,000.”

“That isn’t a problem,” she replied. Bella happily paid the clerk and took the ring. “Thank you so much!” She said as she pushed the door open.

“Thank you! Come again!” the clerk waved.

As she got into her car, her phone chimed. It was Rog’s message tone. Smiling, she retrieved the phone from her bag and read the message:

Bella my love, I have a surprise for you. Meet me tonight at The Tower for dinner at 6 pm. A car will pick you up at 5:30. Waiting for you, Rog

The Tower, she thought. That place is exclusive! There was no way either of them had the connections to get a table there. She knew he had to have pulled some strings to manage the reservation. The guilty feeling crept in again. The ring, though it was beautiful, could never compete with all he had done to prepare for this night. She tapped her phone and the keyboard appeared.

My sweet Rogelio, I would be honored to meet you. However, I have a confession to make. I forgot about our anniversary. I hope you can forgive me. You have my heart, Bella

She sighed deeply. As she set the phone down it chimed again. Rog.

Darling Bella, There is nothing to forgive. I cannot wait to see you tonight. Wear something irresistible. Desiring you, Rog

Instead of shopping for any more gifts for him, she decided to go to the salon instead. She got a makeover, her hair trimmed, makeup done, and a brand new, slinky black dress with stiletto-heeled shoes. The boutique owner lavished compliments on Bella as she emerged from the dressing room wearing it. “Your husband won’t be able to keep his hands off you in that,” she said.

“He already can’t!” Bella laughed. “But that is exactly the reaction I am going for.”

She looked at her watch. Three-thirty. The kids would be home from school and it wasn’t like her to be gone when they got home. She didn’t worry, though. They were old enough to care for themselves and responsible enough to do homework without being told.

She walked into the house, bags in her hands and Charlotte giggled. “Did you get guilty presents for Daddy?”

“Just one,” Bella replied. “Come here and see.” She opened her bag and showed the ring. Their eyes widened and Chris touched the stones.

“Holy cow Mom,” he exclaimed. “How much did this set you back?”

“Your college fund,” Bella teased. Both kids laughed. “Your dad is sending a car for me at 5:30, so I need to be ready. Please don’t make me late.”

“We’ll stay out of your way, Mama,” Charlotte told her. “But if you want some help, I’ll be here.”

“Well, that’s kind of you, honey,” Bella said.

“You look beautiful, Mama,” Chris said to her. “Your hair looks amazing.”

Bella blushed. “Thank you, son.”

She lugged her packages upstairs and plopped them on the bed. She took the black dress and hung it on the door on a clothes hanger and placed the shoes on the bed. She took her time getting dressed and touching up her hair and makeup. She went back downstairs at 5 o’clock, her dressed unzipped. She needed Charlotte to help her.

“Sweetheart, could you get this zipper for me?” Chris’s mouth dropped open.

“Wow, Mama,” he exclaimed. “Daddy is going to freak when he sees you.” Bella blushed.

“Here, I’ve got it,” Charlotte answered, zipping the form-fitting dress. “You look so beautiful, Mama.”

“Thank you, sweetie.” Bella gave one last look in the mirror, checking her makeup. “Is it chilly outside?”

“Yeah, a bit,” said Chris.

Outside, the honk of a horn sounded. The car had arrived to pick Bella up. She grabbed a shawl and her bag. “I don’t know what time we’ll be home. You have my number, and Gilbert is here if you need him. Be good!” The kids waved to her as she walked to the limousine.

The limo arrived at The Tower a few minutes before six. The driver assisted her out of the car and accompanied her into the restaurant, past the crowds that lined up hoping for the chance to be seated.

“Mrs. St John, sir.” he announced to the Maître D’.

“Right this way, Miss.” He led Bella to where Rog was sitting.  He stood when he saw her approach and his eyes lit up.

“Thank you,” Rog told the Maître D’. He looked at Bella as though it was the first time. “Wow, darling,” he told her. “That dress, your hair…” he swallowed hard. “You certainly met the ‘irresistible’ requirement.”

“That’s what I was going for,” she replied.

He held the chair for her as she sat and helped her move closer to the table. The waiter brought a bottle of champagne and a platter of strawberries. Two candles illuminated the table and a vase of lilies scented the air. Nearby, a roaming violinist went table to table serenading and taking requests. Figuring she’d never get another chance to be there, Bella sat and soaked in the atmosphere, enjoying every second. Rog could not take his eyes from her.

“Is everything okay, Rog?” she asked, noticing his admiration. “You’re quiet.”

“Your beauty has rendered me speechless,” he answered. “I never expected this.”

She smiled and took his hand. “I have a surprise for you, but it’s nothing like what you’ve done today.”

“Oh, not true,” he replied. “You win today hands down.”

“Well, this has been killing me so I want to give you your gift.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a small box tied with a bow. She offered it to him, and he accepted it.

“I have a gift for you, too,” he said, as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a similar-looking box. He offered the box to her, and she accepted it.

“Open yours first, Rog,” she suggested excitedly. He agreed, so he untied the bow and opened the box.

“Oh Bella,” he stammered. “This is exquisite.” He took the ring from its box and put it on his finger. A perfect fit. “How did you know this would fit?”

She smiled slyly. “I have my ways.”

He admired the ring. “This is just incredible! Our birthstones! So perfect, I love it, darling. Thank you so much!” He took her hand and squeezed it. “Now, it’s your turn!”

She picked up the box and opened it. Inside was a diamond anniversary band, two diamonds in the middle and 20 more set in a channel, 10 on each side. She set the box on the table and covered her face, trying to hide her emotion.

“Bella?” he asked. “Is everything okay?”

She dabbed her eyes with a tissue and took a deep breath. “Rog, that ring, it is so extravagant! Oh my goodness,” she was fumbling for words trying to find the right ones, but every thought escaped her mind. “I’m speechless!” She stood up, and he did, too. They met in the middle in a tender embrace and they kissed. She laid her head on his shoulder as they remained close. “Thank you,” she whispered. He kissed her again.

“You’re welcome, my darling!”

They sat down together, and he reached for the box he had given her and removed the ring. Holding her hand, he slid the ring onto her finger in front of her wedding band. “Bella, I would absolutely marry you all over again. I couldn’t live without you.”

Her heart was filled to overflowing. The note that morning, the flowers, the cards, the ring, and the man she loved more than life itself. She felt a tear trickle down her cheek and she grinned. “Oh baby,” she wept, “I would marry you every day for the rest of our lives.”

They took their time dining, enjoying the meal and feeding morsels to each other. They reminisced about everything, laughing about the now-infamous Estevan debacle, rejoicing in the birth of their children, and remembering both of their overseas vacations. “What’s your favorite memory?” he asked her as they gazed into each other’s eyes.

“I’m not sure I could pick a favorite,” she answered. “Every moment with you is a contender.” Still, she thought for a moment and finally picked one. “Remember the time at the Park? You were still a proprietor. We’d only been on one date, and I never called you back afterward. You were so mad at me and rightfully so. I had the worst show, and I had just found out Estevan was stalking me.” He nodded his head. “You brought me home and made sure I was safe. Remember? You stayed that night on the couch in the bungalow.”

He scratched his chin. He remembered the night but not as fondly as she apparently did. “Yes, I remember.”

“The next morning you made pancakes, banana ones. You stayed with me and never left my side, knowing I had a crazy ex-boyfriend who would complicate things. You stayed with me. That was the day I discovered I loved you, Rog. I’m still amazed, after all this time that you stuck around when you didn’t have to. That is my favorite memory.”

“I couldn’t just abandon you when I didn’t know if you would be safe.” Rog reached for her and stroked her cheek. “I’ll tell you my favorite moment.” He took her hand, playing with her fingers. “It was my first day at Verde Park as a proprietor, green as could be and not really knowing how I got the job in the first place. And here comes a fiery redhead wearing a magician outfit asking for an audition. You were so beautiful, even with that silly hat and the tuxedo bodysuit they had you wearing. Your hand touched mine ever so slightly and I got goosebumps. I never believed in love at first sight until I saw you. I was hooked, Bella,” he smiled softly at her. “You were my first and only love. That is my favorite memory. I couldn’t function after that. And when I went looking for you the Grind was the last place I’d been that night. I went everywhere looking for you hoping to find you, somewhere, anywhere.”

“You’ve never told me that before,” she said sweetly. “I thought you knew I was moonlighting at the Grind.”

“I had no idea,” he replied. “I was almost ready to give up, too. But I had to find you. Had to.” He took a sip of champagne. “It was almost as though if I didn’t find you that night, I’d lose you forever.”

“But I had that steady gig at the Park, Rog.”

“I was already on thin ice there. I was not meant for show business and I was running out of second chances.” He shook his head at the memory. “Everything in my life depended on finding you. I couldn’t stand the thought of not at least trying to win your heart.”

“That is the sweetest thing! Funny how our favorite memories are the ones where we fell in love with the other.”

“Meeting you was life-changing,” he said, very matter-of-factly. “I was blessed to have such a moment. Most guys never get to experience it.”

“I’ll confess when you came looking for me at the club that night, I really wasn’t sure what to think of it.” She giggled. “I mean, I liked you professionally but never thought of you that way.”

“It must have been my raw appeal,” he said sarcastically, striking a pose.

“No, it was something greater, deeper. I saw in you a man who was loyal, respectful, and honorable.” She sipped her champagne. “You were exactly the man I needed.”

The waiter returned with the check, and Rog paid it. “Are you ready for the rest of the night?” he asked.

“There’s more?” she replied, dumbfounded.

“Oh darling, I’m just getting started,” he purred.

Morning came late for the two lovebirds, but it was thankfully Saturday. Nobody had to be anywhere, the kids had gone off to friends’ houses for the night. It was past noon when she woke, feeling like she had worked out for 8 hours straight. Every muscle in her body ached but she had to move. She peeled herself away from Rog. They had slept together how they had fallen asleep, neither of them moving. Their bedroom was still locked, so she didn’t worry about the butler coming in to clean or make the beds. She stumbled to the bathroom and sat down. Then she heard a groan of pain from the bedroom. She ran to see Rog trying to stand but to no avail.

“Oh, baby,” she said to him. “You can’t move, can you?” He shook his head. That was the only movement that seemed to not hurt. 

“I’m too old for that kind of night, I suppose.” He managed to sit up on the side of the bed. 

“Here, let me help you.” She grabbed his arm and steadied him as he stood, wobbly on his feet. One step, one step, moving slowly, Rog made his way to the bathroom. Bella held tight to him until he was finished. They both washed their hands in side by side sinks. She hugged him close.

“Sorry, darling,” Rog lamented. “I think I’m good for a few days.” 

They showered together and found the warm water actually helped loosen up their muscles a bit. By the time they were done, they were both walking normally, but still a bit sore. 

Though she never took advantage of his cooking skills, Gilbert was actually an accomplished chef. On this day, however, she asked him to make something, anything, so she didn’t have to stand. He prepared stir fry, Rog’s favorite dish, and brought two servings to the dining room table. Rog had already opened a bottle of wine they had brought home from France, and they sipped it as they watched the first unseasonably early snow beginning to fall.

After dinner, they took the wine bottle and their glasses and sat by the fireplace, snuggled together. She was laying on his belly with her arms wrapped around him, her head on his chest, his legs wrapped around her and his hand on her back. They were nearly inseparable and almost indistinguishable from one another. They were asleep on the sofa when the kids came home and Charlotte covered them both with blankets and tiptoed upstairs with Chris.

“Night night, Mama and Daddy,” she whispered as she climbed the stairs, blowing them each a kiss.


Up Next: Chapter Thirteen, Generation Three

¹ https://www.luvze.com/love-poems-for-her/
² https://www.luvze.com/love-poems-for-her/

Pose Credit (Featured Image)

Poses By Bee – Engagement Portraits

G3 Chapter Eleven – The Best of Birthdays

Bella put the finishing touch on the cake and swirled it around on the pedestal. “Perfect!” she congratulated herself dabbing on one last decoration. They were having a huge birthday party for Charlotte’s thirteenth birthday and for Christopher’s tenth. Carefully she covered the cake with a dome and set it on the counter. Her phone rang.


“Mrs. St John? This is Lauren from the balloon shop. You ordered some balloons for a party?”

“Yes, I did. Are they ready?”

“Yes ma’am, they are. Danny will be by later to deliver them.” Lauren confirmed the St John residence address and delivery time and they hung up the phone.

Meanwhile, at the park, Rog was entertaining the children at the Fall Festival. They both picked a pumpkin from the patch to carve for Spooky Day. Rog wanted to bring the kids into the haunted house. Charlotte was excited to go in. Chris, on the other hand, needed a little more convincing. Rog assured him that nothing in the house was real. So with Charlotte leading the way, Chris in the middle and Rog bringing up the rear, the three of them braved the haunted house. Chris loved it and wanted to go in again and again. Rog sat out while Charlotte went with him trying to scare him.

By five o’clock, the balloons had arrived and the house was decorated for a birthday party. Chris and Charlotte’s friends were waiting for the guests of honor to arrive and all of them were excited to jump out and yell “Surprise” for them. Bella unveiled the cake and set it on the island to display. She heard the gate open and knew that Rog was home. Bella had everyone hide behind furniture as she dimmed the lights. In the distance, she heard Chris talking about the haunted house, and Charlotte discussing the art of carving pumpkins, their voices grew louder as they approached the door. Rog saw that the lights were out in the house, so he stuck his key in the door pretending to unlock it and flipped the light switch. Bella and a room full of kids yelled “Surprise!” She loved to see the kids’ faces as they noticed all their friends, but the kids loved to see the stack of birthday presents waiting for them.

The party went on into the evening hours until parents arrived to bring their partygoers home for the night. The favorite gifts, however, were bicycles Rog and Bella bought for them. Full of cake, ice cream, and punch, neither of the two kids was ready to settle down for the night. All four of them sat and watched a movie on their large-screen television. Charlotte snuggled up with her father and Christopher with Bella. By the time the movie was over, the kids were sound asleep. Not wanting to disturb either of them, they covered the kids with a blanket and kissed them good night.

The next morning, the big gift was revealed. Rog and Bella sat them down after breakfast and told them the good news. “We have a surprise for you two,” Bella said, beaming with excitement.

Rog took an envelope from his briefcase and handed it to Charlotte. “What’s this?” she asked.

“Open it, silly!” Chris said, eager to find out what was contained in the envelope.

She stuck her tongue out at her brother and gingerly opened the gift. Inside were four first-class round trip tickets to France, and a hotel suite for 7 days. “Oh, Daddy!” Charlotte exclaimed. “Thank you guys so much!”

“What is it?” Chris asked. Charlotte handed him the envelope. As he read, his face lit up. “France?” he exclaimed. “How awesome is this?” He hugged Bella. “When are we going?”

“We’re leaving tomorrow morning,” she told them. “So we need to pack one bag each, okay Charli?”

“Yes, Mama!” Charlotte was so excited. “I can’t believe we get to go with you!”

Bella followed the kids upstairs to help them choose clothing for the trip. Passports had been completed months prior, so everything was ready. Rog was rather pleased with himself. He wanted to make sure they made good memories with their children.

The next morning they woke the kids early for the hour-long drive to the airport. Chris had his doll Buster with him, and Charlotte brought her laptop computer for the plane ride. Rog had given Bella a new camera and she couldn’t wait to take pictures of the family having fun together. Ironically, the in-flight movie was the one they had all seen together the evening of their birthday party so the kids slept through it. Rog and Bella talked through the seven-hour flight making plans and deciding the itinerary based upon the region they would be visiting.  To Bella’s surprise, they would be in the city where the family had visited when she was Charlotte’s age and she was looking forward to seeing how everything had changed over the past 25 years.

The flight attendant woke Rog and Bella as the plane began its final approach and Bella woke the kids. Chris and Charlotte watched out the window of the airplane as it touched down and taxied into the terminal.  A shuttle was waiting to bring the family to the hotel and they piled in. It was already late when they arrived and they were tired so they settled into bed and slept, wanting to start fresh the next morning.

Bella stirred, feeling Rog behind her. His light breath was on her neck and she felt his arm around her waist. She was about to snuggle up closer when Christopher came bounding into their room. “Wake up! Wake up!” he yelled loudly, bouncing on the bed.

“Okay, Chris,” Bella said. “We’re up.”

Sleepily, Rog peered through half-open eyes and observed a little light peeking through the window. “What time is it, darling?” he asked Bella, and then yawned.

She looked at her watch. “It’s 6:30, baby.”

Rog sighed. “Go back to sleep, Chris. It’s too early.”

“But Daddy!” he protested.

“I said no, Chris. Not yet.” Rog scooted his other arm around Bella and pulled her close. Her hair smelled like green apples.

“Ohhh-kayyy.” Chris turned around and closed the bedroom door padding softly back to the kids’ room. The suite was a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom with a small kitchenette area and a balcony with a small bistro table with 4 chairs. Rog chuckled when he heard Chris waking his sister in a similar fashion in the next bedroom.

“Now, where were we?” Rog cooed as he kissed Bella’s neck.

“Oooh, right there,” Bella purred.

Two hours later, Rog and Bella appeared in the kitchen. Charlotte helped Chris get breakfast and had more than enough leftovers. Chris had spotted a chess table in the lobby of the hotel, and he challenged Charlotte to a game. So with Bella’s permission, the two young ones headed downstairs to play.

“What do you want to do today, darling?” Rog walked up behind Bella and wrapped his arms around her.

“Don’t you think we should have breakfast first, love?” She teased.

“Mmm,” he replied. “I’ve already had dessert.” She turned around and swatted him.

“Be good, Rog! The kids are with us this time.” She finished fixing plates of croissants and preserves with two steaming cups of coffee and brought them outside to the balcony.  “I think this is prettier than the last time I was here.” She breathed in the vapors of steam from her mug and exhaled. The land was flat with just a few small rolling hills way off in the distance. The area was rural with vineyards as far as the eye could see. On the top of a small mesa to the west sat a mansion that had been converted to an art museum. Behind that, tucked into a sea of unending grapevines was the nectary. She and Bree hadn’t gotten the chance to visit it last time and it was definitely a place of interest for her on this trip.

“So, back to my first question,” Rog said, smiling at her. “What would you like to do today?”

“I think Charli expressed an interest in exploring a couple of old catacombs. I know you love that sort of thing.” Rog nodded, taking a bite of croissant.

“Sounds good, but I’m not sure Chris has the spine for the catacombs,” Rog remembered the mummy that nearly fell out of its coffin on the trip to China. Chris was a smart young man, but what he had in smarts he lacked in courage. An event like that would likely scare Chris badly.

“How about I stay behind and be with Chris today. Take Charlotte and have some time with her, just the two of you.”

“Are you sure? This is supposed to be a family vacation.” Rog looked disappointed.

“Yes, I’m sure. Chris and I will have fun at the pool.”

Rog bit his lip. “Bikini?”

“You know it.”

“Aww, man!” Rog picked up his breakfast dishes and set them in the kitchen sink. “Shower time, make mine cold.” Bella chuckled and rolled her eyes. After all this time together, he was still insatiable.

Rog dressed and met up with Charlotte. Bella packed some granola bars, wet wipes, bug spray and water for them in his day pack. “Come on, kiddo,” he told Charlotte. “It’s just you and me today.”

Her blue eyes widened. “Where are we going?”

“To the catacombs, if that’s okay with you.” Rog clipped his day pack around his waist and handed Charlotte a bottle of water.

She beamed with excitement. “Oh Daddy!” she cried. “I can’t wait!”

Rog and Charlotte had a lot of fun exploring the catacombs but didn’t find anything remarkable on that trip. A few old coins here and there but nothing like the ivory cat Bella had found in China. Bella and Chris spent most of the day at the pool and by the time Rog and Charlotte returned to the hotel Chris was shriveled like a raisin. Everyone got cleaned up and went to the hotel restaurant for dinner that night.

“What’s on the agenda for tomorrow, my loves?” asked Bella during dessert.

“How about the nectary?” Rog suggested. “I know you’ve been wanting to go and get some good nectar right from the source.”

Chris wrinkled his nose. “Boring,” he stated and went back to coloring his placemat.

“What would you like to do, then?” Rog asked him.

“I wanted to go to the catacombs today with you and Charli.” Rog felt bad immediately.

“We didn’t think you’d like that, honey,” Bella replied. “It can get scary in those dark hallways.”

“Mama, I’m not a coward,” he said. “Can I still go, Daddy? Please?”

“Okay, Chris,” Rog answered. “If we have time for another day of exploring you and your Mama can come with us.” That made the young boy smile. Bella, on the other hand, not so much.

The next morning, they awoke to a rooster crowing on the neighboring farm. Chris had never heard such a thing, and Charlotte had only seen pictures of roosters in books. So the children had to go check out the odd-looking bird with the built-in alarm clock.

Bella made crepes for breakfast and dished out two servings, one for her, and one for Rog. He made a fresh pot of coffee and poured them each a mug and together they retreated to the balcony. The air was refreshing and cool and dew covered the grass.

“I don’t know why these taste better than usual,” Bella remarked. “I made them the same way I do at home.”

“It’s France, darling,” Rog replied. “Everything tastes better here.” He winked at her and blew a kiss.

Bella blushed. The kids came through the door seconds later putting the halt on their suggestive exchange.

“Smells great, Mama!” quipped Chris, who grabbed a plate and joined them on the balcony.

“Wait until you taste them,” Rog said winking once more at Bella. Looking around he asked Chris, “Where is Charli?”

“In the shower,” Chris answered, stuffing his face with crepes. “You’re right Dad, these are awesome!”

Charlotte appeared in the kitchen, her hair wrapped in a towel. She grabbed breakfast and joined Bella, Chris, and Rog at the table. “What are we doing today?”

“Your Mama wants to see the nectary today, but tomorrow we will visit a different catacomb since your brother wants to go.” Rog finished the last sip of coffee and gathered dirty dishes.

Charlotte nodded. Chris took a break from eating and gave Rog two thumbs up. Bella and Rog both cleaned the kitchenette, not wanting to leave their mess for housekeeping to do, then got dressed. Chris cleaned his own dishes and played with Buster, the doll Jen had given him as an infant.

The family walked together to the transportation hub where they would catch a bus to the nectary. Bella couldn’t wait as she had developed a taste for fine French nectar. This would be the one place on their trip she wouldn’t forget. Nestled into a small hilly parcel of land surrounded by green pastureland and grapevines, the nectary sat well off the beaten path. Upon exiting the bus, the sounds of nature filled the air. Frogs croaked from the creek that ran behind the property. Native birds chirped happily as they fluttered around looking for their morning meal.

The first thing Bella did was head to the cellar where they had nectar samples. Rog, on the other hand, was more interested in the process and brought the children through a guided tour of the vineyard and production center of the nectary. Chris was fascinated with the grape stomping part of the demonstration and wanted to volunteer. Even though she was 13, Charlotte got to sample a bit of nectar but wrinkled her nose in disgust and spat it out. After the tour, the family joined Bella in the cellar.

That evening, the family dined at a five-star restaurant just on the outskirts of the village where they stayed. They made plans to visit the catacombs the next day as a family. On their way back to the hotel Bella stopped in and restocked her exploring supplies, grabbing granola bars, water, and bandages just in case. Chris, while a brilliant child, tended to be a bit clumsy. He was a walking, talking accident waiting to happen.

Much to their surprise, Chris loved exploring the catacombs and actually was brave enough to stick his hand into a hole to look for a trigger, despite the bugs and creepy crawlies in the tunnels. His bravery was rewarded with the discovery of a statue hiding in the hole. Though the statue was small, it was intricately detailed and in decent condition. Bella stashed it into her pack and kept it safe. The statue was the only significant find in the tunnels, and Chris was especially proud of himself.

The next day was rainy and the weather sidelined their plans to fish and camp, so they spent the day inside playing games and telling stories by the fireplace. The rain made the temperature a bit chilly, so the fireplace was kept stocked and burning for most of the day into the evening. After dinner, Rog and Bella opened up a bottle of nectar she had purchased at the nectary and curled up by the fire. The children were sleepy and went to bed early.

“Are you having fun, darling?” Rog asked, sipping his glass of nectar. They were sitting on the floor on a plush rug, her feet on his lap.

“I am, baby.” She moved her feet and shifted position so that her head was in his lap. Rog stroked her hair and they sat like that for a long time just enjoying each other.

“Hey, you still have that bikini?” Rog asked as he rubbed her back.

“You know I do, silly man.” Bella snickered. “Want to go swimming?”

“It’s too cold for that,” he replied.

“Oh, but I know how to warm you up,” she said, flirting wildly with him.

“How about we just skip the cold and go right to the warm?” He suggested.

“Do I still have to wear the bikini?”

“Nope!” She stood up and he got behind her. Gently offering his arm for her, she took it, and he led her up to their suite.

The last day of vacation was quickly upon them and they had planned to spend the day at the hotel’s pool. Bella woke early and decided to go for a jog. She hadn’t been out running in a long time so she didn’t expect to be out for long. But she covered some distance and watched the sunrise to the east. Taking a sip from her water bottle, she stretched and headed back to the hotel.

No one was awake when she came back into the room so she slipped into the shower and freshened up. She never felt more alive than she did after a run and she was surprised at how long she was able to jog. The shower only helped her to feel more invigorated and she was exceedingly joyful as she prepared their last breakfast in France. The aroma of coffee woke Rog and when he reached for Bella, her spot was bare. Sleepily, he donned his robe and stumbled out into the kitchen. He gazed at Bella, puttering in the kitchen, and smiled at her. The love he felt for the woman making breakfast was immeasurable.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” Bella said, spotting Rog standing in the doorway.

“How is the most beautiful woman alive?” Rog walked to her and kissed her.

“I don’t know, you’d have to find her and ask!” Bella teased. She ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his nose. “You’re no slouch yourself, you know.”

“Nah,” he replied. “I’m just me.” He kissed her hand. “And just me loves all of you.”

She melted at the sweet compliments, and her heart was full. “I love you too, so very much.” She hugged him. “Thank you, baby, for this wonderful trip. I only wish we didn’t have to leave tomorrow morning.”

“Me too.” The door creaked and Chris walked through the bedroom door and into the kitchen.

“Really?” he said, catching them in a hug. Making a gagging noise, he added, “It’s too early Dad, have some decency!” Bella burst out laughing.

“It’s never too early to tell your mother how much I love her.” He shuffled off to where Chris was standing and picked him up. “It’s never too early to hang you upside down, either!” Chris began to giggle. Bella decided to get in on the fun and tickled his belly while he was helpless.

“Uncle! Uncle!” Chris squealed, laughing.

“Oh, okay,” Rog pouted. “It was just getting fun!”

The bedroom door opened again and this time a very sleepy Charlotte walked through it. “What are you DOING out here?” she asked, clearly annoyed.

“Oh, we were just tickle torturing your brother,” Bella replied. “Do you want to be next?”

“Oh no, no no no no!” Charlotte answered, backing away as she tried to escape Rog’s grasp. But he was too quick for her. He held her hands behind her back and offered the young girl for Bella to tickle.

“Nah, I think I’ll spare this one,” Bella said, carefully perusing the situation. “You can let her go… for now!” She winked at Rog, who released his grasp on Charlotte’s hands. By this time, she was giggling, and fully awake.

“It works better than coffee every time it’s tried,” Rog mused. Bella nodded, both children were laughing and happy.

“Who is ready for breakfast?” Bella asked, and all three hands shot up in the air. She served homemade crepes again as she had done on their second morning and once again they tasted better than they had at home.

After breakfast, they all got into their swimsuits, grabbed towels from the room and headed to the pool. It was their last chance to relax before their long flight the following day. Though the morning air was chilly it took no time at all to warm up to a comfortable swimming temperature. Bella jumped in first with Chris and Charlotte right behind her. They splashed around, did hold-your-breath contests, and goofed around in the pool together. Rog, who had picked up a few more books at the store in town sat in a lounge chair reading. It was the first chance he’d had to read in days, and he was loving the downtime.

When everyone was done at the pool, they walked to the village center which turned out to be just a few blocks from the hotel and got dinner at the little café. Chris and Charlotte were each allowed to pick out one item from the shops to bring home as a souvenir and Rog got a book to read on the plane. With their goodies in hand, they strolled back to the hotel, discussing the trip, reliving memories, but looking forward to returning home and sleeping in their own beds.

The next morning, Bella woke the children early and helped them pack the rest of their bags. Each of them showered and gathered their belongings to bring home. After the kids were settled and having croissants, she woke Rog.

“I know it’s early, baby, but we have a flight to catch.” She kissed his cheek and set a cup of coffee on the nightstand.

“You know, you are way too perky for this hour of the morning.” He reached up, grabbed her wrist and gently pulled her on top of him.

“You have time for a shower,” she mused. “Lucky for you, the kids used all the hot water.”

Rog chuckled, “That’s not a bad thing.”

“It’s a long flight, baby. There will be time for us when we get home.”

“But there’s something about the atmosphere here, though. You just look crazy beautiful, and you know I can’t—”

She laughed. “Oh, I know, believe me!” She blew a kiss and left the room.

Rog finished his shower, pulled their suitcase from the bedroom and set it outside their door for the bellhop to retrieve. Charlotte and Chris did the same and Bella called for the bags to be picked up. They had 15 minutes before the shuttle arrived to bring them to the airport, so Bella gathered everyone on the balcony, set up her camera on a timer and took a family picture of them with the green countryside in the background. The phone rang in the room and it was the front desk.

“Your shuttle has arrived, Mr. St John,” the voice on the other end announced.

“Thank you, we will be right down,” Rog answered and hung up the phone.

Everyone got into the shuttle and settled down for the ride to the airport. The mood was somber and though they were looking forward to going home, none of them wished to actually leave.

“Mama, Daddy, thank you so much for this,” Charlotte said. “I’ll never forget this week. Ever.”

“Me too,” Chris chimed in. “This was the most awesome week of my life!”

Rog, who was sitting in the middle of the two kids hugged them both close. “You are most welcome. We both love you so much.”

Not much more was said on the rest of the ride to the airport, or on the plane. The kids entertained themselves with their phones and Bella and Rog sat together, holding hands and just being in love. Although they had the children with them, it was a fabulous vacation for them.

Hours later, the plane was on its final descent into the airport in Starlight Shores. The city looked so small from the air and Bella could hardly believe they were home so quickly. As the plane taxied into the terminal Rog and Bella gathered items from the kids and put them away. In the baggage claim area, a driver had already retrieved their bags and waited to take them back home.

“Thank you, baby,” Bella whispered to Rog as the limo pulled up in front of their home.

“No, thank you,” Rog answered. “For everything.”


Up Next: Chapter Twelve, Generation Three

Pose Credit (Featured Image)

Poses By Bee – Family Pose Set Six