The nanny lets out a scream, and the girls come running in the house crying.
“What’s wrong?” Abby asks, hugging them tightly, praying everything is okay. She yells at James. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Take the girls. Go to your room and lock the door.”
Abby whisks the girls into her room, locking the door and then pushing a chair in front of the door. Vincent is here. She knows it. His letters have gotten progressively worse. He’s very mad at her for hiding Keatyn away. Says they are star-crossed lovers who can’t be kept apart. He’s been threatening everyone she loves. Every single person. Tommy. Gracie. Grandpa and Grandma Douglas. The triplets. The nanny. Even the dog.
Could he have hurt the dog?
She soothes the girls and takes them into the bathroom, putting one more door between them and Vincent. She pulls out the stash of suckers in her bathroom for when she needs the girls to behave while she’s trying to get ready. She gives them to the girls and asks them to stay in the bathroom for a minute.
“Mommy will be right back,” she says, locking them in.
She goes to her nightstand and pulls open the drawer, hits a combination in a lock, and is rewarded with the loaded gun she recently bought. She has to be able to protect them. Keatyn’s father grew up on a ranch in Texas and taught her to shoot many years ago. It’s been awhile, but she will protect her babies at all costs. She takes the gun and moves to the window stealthily.
Could it be Tommy? She checks her phone. He had an early call time this morning. They have an agreement that they text each other when they arrive on set. Garrett told them at their home they are safe, but they have to be careful when traveling, that they are vulnerable.
She notes that Tommy hasn’t texted, and he should have arrived at his destination at least two hours ago.
Is that why the nanny screamed? Are her worst nightmares coming true? Is Tommy dead? Left in the backyard for her and the girls to find? So she’d know what’s next?
She peeks out the window and sees James on the phone, pacing.
That’s not good.
But she assumes if Vincent were here, James would not be pacing in the backyard. He’d be up here protecting her and the girls. She’s moving to put the gun away when she notices them. On top of the slide in the children’s play set.
Four of them.
Vincent telling her that the nanny could have found four dead bodies instead of the roses. That he’s coming after them.
The gun shakes in her hand. She puts it away and then sits on the bed, tears streaming down her face.
She picks up the phone, calls her liaison at the studio, and asks her to schedule another event. A private early screening in Los Angeles of To Maddie, with Love. She even tells her who all she wants invited.
And the most important name on the guest list is Vincent Sharpe.
Back at Eastbrooke under protest, Keatyn tells Cooper her plan.
I’m meeting with Cooper, laying out my plan.
He listens to the whole thing without interruption.
“So, what do you think?”
“If your life weren’t on the line, it’d be a great plan.”
“Well, that’s where you come in. I’d like you to quit working for Garrett and work for me.”
“Yeah. Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll double it.”
He raises an eyebrow at me.
“Fine. I’ll triple it.”
“You suck at negotiation,” he laughs.
“That’s what agents are for,” I laugh in reply.
“Why do you want me to work for you?” He looks at me intently as he leans on his forearms.
“Because I already almost got you fired. And . . . I’m probably going to ask you to help me with some things Garrett may not approve of.”
“You’ve asked me a lot of questions regarding pushing Vincent. Is that part of your plan?”
“And how do you think that will end?”
I fiddle with the string on Aiden’s hoodie, the one he pulled over my head as I was leaving, hoping Cooper will forget the question.
“Answer me,” he says firmly.
“How do you think it will end?” I whisper.
“With one of you dead.”
I nod. “That’s what I think too. And, either way, it’s a win.”
“How is you ending up dead a win?”
“Because if he kills me, I know you’ll get the evidence we need to put him away for life. Which means my family will be free of him. That’s all I want. If I survive, I’ll give you a really big bonus.”
“I don’t want your money, Keatyn. I’d do this for free.”
“I know you would, but your life will be in danger too.”
He says softly, “I won’t let him win.”
“There are a lot of ways it could go down. Lots of different endings to the script.”
“He kidnaps me, you come get me, and he goes to prison. Or, he kidnaps me, you can’t find me, I escape, and then he goes to prison. Or, he kidnaps me, kills me, and you make sure he either goes to prison for life. Or . . .”
“I’m going to update my will this week.”
He squints at me. “Once I get over the shock of a seventeen-year-old even having a will, I’m going to ask you why.”
“If I’m murdered, there will be a provision giving you a large sum of money. I want you to use the money to move your family somewhere there’s no extradition. Then I want you to hire a professional to kill him.”
Cooper shuts his eyes tightly. “Is there a happier ending? One where you aren’t kidnapped or dead?”
I sigh and tell him the rest of my plan.
“When the time is right, we’re going to let him kidnap me.”
“Are you nuts?”
“Probably. We’ll worry about that later. For now, you’ll only have to worry when we start baiting him.”
“Cooper, I understand why your sister didn’t want to change her life when she was being stalked. I get it, probably more than anyone. But the difference is she wasn’t ready for him. We will be.”
He still doesn’t look convinced.
I jut my chin out and add, “It’s either that, or I go back to Malibu by myself.”
He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I’ll give you an answer regarding my employment in the morning. Go get some sleep.”
The next morning when I get to the diner, Garrett and Cooper are already sitting at a booth in the back. I skip the hostess stand and join them.
“Hey, Garrett,” I say coolly, taking a seat. Be strong, Keatyn. It’s time for you to take charge.
“Good morning,” he replies.
Cooper rolls tired eyes at me by way of a greeting.
“So, let’s hear this plan of yours,” Garrett says, cutting to the chase.
“My plan got blown up the second you made me leave the island. Look. I want to preface what I’m about to say with a thank you. I sincerely appreciate what you’ve done thus far in keeping me and my family safe. And you’ve been especially kind to me.” I sigh. “But, when you threatened me—no, worse: when you made Tommy threaten me—it forced me to take a long look at things. You’ve purposely divided us. And I understand that we shouldn’t be in the same location, but what I don’t understand is why you haven’t been forthcoming about all that’s been going on. It’s tearing my family apart, Garrett, and I won’t allow it anymore. So, starting now, everything goes through me. All bills. All plans.”
Garrett says, “I have a separate agreement with your mom.”
“She’ll be calling you to void that later today. I don’t want to argue with you. I want to partner with you. And we’re going to begin this partnership with you telling me what’s been going on with her.”
Cooper gives me a little smile over the top of his coffee cup.
“Fine,” Garrett says. “You know that everything I do is in all of your best interests. The threatening letters didn’t stop when your mother moved to Vancouver. In fact, they have become increasingly worse. Then, there was a small breach at the Vancouver property.”
“The fence surrounding the property was slashed and black roses were left on the swing set.”
My heart drops into my stomach.
“You and your mother are a lot alike, Keatyn. She’s trying to bear the weight of it.”
“Surely, you can see the physical toll it’s taken on her?”
“But she won’t listen to you, right?”
“Yeah, kinda like when I had to have your bags packed.”
“Touché.” I blink slowly, then continue. “So, basically, the original plan hasn’t worked. You said that if he couldn’t find me, he’d lose interest. But the opposite has happened. It’s getting worse for my family because he can’t find me.”
Garrett nods. “I’d say that’s an accurate assessment.”
“Do you think he wants us both?”
“Based on the letters, he only wants you.”
“So he’s threatening to hurt everyone Mom loves if I don’t come out of hiding? Is that it?”
I know by the look on Garrett’s face that it is.
“Shit,” I say. “That’s why she doesn’t call me. That’s why she was freaked out when I showed up at their house. She was afraid.”
“She’s pushing you away to keep you safe.”
My eyes fill with tears. “But what about the girls? She’d want to . . .” And then it hits me. What she’s been doing. “Oh my god.”
“Mom’s plan is just like mine. Only she’s using the press to help her.”
“I’m not following,” Garrett says. His and Cooper’s faces are mirrors of confusion.
“The stories in the press. The rumors of the affair with her bodyguard. Tommy and Millie cheating. She’s setting it up so that when she leaves Tommy, people will expect it.”
“She’s leaving Tommy?”
“I think so. Remember when you told me that for witness protection sometimes you make the family believe that the witness is dead? Same thing. I don’t think Tommy has a clue. She wants his reaction to be real.”
“Why would she leave Tommy?” Cooper asks. “And how would it change what’s going on with Vincent?”
“She can’t pretend to be dead, so she’s doing the only other thing she can. She’s leaving them. She’ll get the girls to France and then leave them with James. Think about it. She’s scary skinny. Tommy’s affair is driving her to drink or do drugs. She’s not stable. She’s leaving Tommy and he’ll get custody of the girls.”
“Shit,” Garrett mutters as he quickly recovers from the shock of it. “I knew she agreed to France too easily.”
“She wants them safe. But then what?” I ask. “She checks into rehab? Lives by herself? Or maybe even something bolder. Like, maybe she didn’t really cancel the To Maddie, with Love press tour.” I’m thinking out loud, now.
Garrett shakes his head. “I was under the impression she cancelled the tour. If she’s going, she won’t have security.”
“And maybe that’s what she wants. She told me it was all her fault. If she wasn’t who she is, then her children wouldn’t be in danger.” I stop and look Garrett dead in the eyes. “I asked Cooper this question, but I’d like your opinion. What do you think would happen if I walked into Vincent’s production office and asked to audition for the role?”
Garrett winces. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I know, but why? What could he do? Give me the role?”
“Well, if he’s caught off guard by it, there’s no telling what he would do. Sociopaths like to plan. They are obsessive in their planning.”
“Right, but what happens when things don’t go according to their plan?”
“They become more unhinged, mentally.”
“Would it cause Vincent to just react? And more importantly, if he couldn’t plan, would he start making mistakes?”
Garrett nods. “Their behavior becomes unpredictable. Which is bad. But, yes, if pushed, one would assume he wouldn’t be as careful.”
“That’s exactly what I want. And I’m pretty sure it’s what Mom wants.”
“I want him to start making mistakes, so we can send him to jail. And I think Mom wants him to kidnap her for the same reason.”
Garrett holds his head like he has a headache. “I thought my job was to keep you both safe.”
“I know what I’m planning to do is risky. I’m hoping you and Cooper will help to contain that risk.”
“So tell me this plan.”
“Well, assuming that I’m probably right about Mom, the first thing we need to do is convince her to stay in France. You just can’t tell her the part about me.”
“What is it with you two?” Garrett says, shaking his head. “I thought you wanted everything out in the open?”
I smirk at him. “Well, maybe not everything. So, I have a three-pronged approach. I want to attack Vincent from all sides. He needs to know what it feels like to start losing the things he loves. First, his business. Brooklyn and I are going to work with someone his dad knows to start a hostile takeover of his production company. We’ll form a bunch of shell corporations—probably foreign, so that Vincent doesn’t know who’s behind them. We recently discovered that he’s heavily leveraged. And, more importantly, so is his company.”
“What will buying his company accomplish?”
“Do you know why he’s heavily leveraged?”
“Because he’s personally financing a large portion of the remake of A Day at the Lake.”
“Your mom’s movie,” Cooper states.
“But he doesn’t personally own the options. The production company does.”
“And if he loses his company—” Cooper says, as Garrett finishes his thought. “He loses the movie.”
Garrett nods. “I like that, actually. It will give him something else to focus on.”
“While we focus on him.”
“I know you used to follow him, but I want more. I want inside knowledge. So, I looked at his company website last night and I have an idea. His personal assistant is in her mid-twenties and single. Based on her social media, she’s a regular at a bar called Reggae. I was thinking you might have another employee like Cooper. Young. Good-looking. They become friends. She talks about her job. About her boss.”
“Inside information is always good.”
“What we learn from her will help me decide how to proceed on the third prong of the attack. Garrett, are you absolutely positive that there won’t be any breaches in security at the house in France?”
“We’ve fenced the perimeter of the property. 24-hour camera surveillance. Armed guards. It’s like Eastbrooke, only better.”
“Good, because the second prong of the attack will happen organically. The To Maddie, with Love publicity tour. The worldwide premieres. It all kicks off with the extend trailer premiere during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”
“We assumed that’s part of what sent him over the edge to begin with,” Garrett tells Cooper. He turns to me and says, “So what’s the third prong?”
“Yes. We’re going to let him see me. Everywhere. When the time is right.”
“When will the time be right?”
“I’m going to audition for a role in Tommy’s next movie and, if I get it, I’ll be filming some scenes in New York City over Christmas break. They can make the crew sign non-disclosure agreements, so no one talks about my role until we’re ready. They start filming the big action scenes that I would be a part of in March, so I thought that’s when we’d announce it. Do a big press release. Flood the tabloids with pictures of me. I’ll become a wild child in the eyes of the press, but it will all be carefully orchestrated. It’ll look like I’m out and about all the time. Different guy on my arm in every picture. Drunk coming out of the club. Smoking pot. Skanky photos. Anything to get on the cover of a magazine. But all Vincent will know is where I was last night. Not where I actually am.”
“And where will you actually be?”
“Don’t laugh, but Cooper and I will be living on a boat.”
“Well, more like a yacht. There are some details we’ll have to work out when the time is right, but no one tracks boats. Not like they do aircraft. So, in theory, I could drive, or maybe even helicopter, to where the yacht is, and sail to a different location. Never a night in the same place, basically.”
“You’ve really thought this through,” Cooper states, smirking at me. I think he might be proud.
“And what about Eastbrooke?”
“I promise that I’ll stay here until March. So, what do you think?”
Garrett smiles at me. “I will admit, your plan has some merit.”
“Oh, I forgot to mention that starting now, Cooper works for me.”
“Is that right?” Garrett asks Cooper directly.
Cooper looks him in the eye. Man to man. And says, “That’s right.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. He hadn’t told me his decision yet.
Garrett slips me a forged doctor’s note. “Why don’t you get back to school?”
I glance at Cooper. “You’re going to stay here and talk, huh?”
They both nod, so I grab my keys and head to my car.
When I get there, I call my mom.
Surprisingly, she answers.
“Hey, Mom. I really need to talk to you. Do you have a few minutes?”
“Sure, honey,” she says. “I’m just finishing up some packing.”
“I’m glad you and the girls are going to France.”
Mom gives me a little, “A-hem,” in agreement. I know her. She doesn’t like to lie.
“This thing with Vincent has been tough on all of us. You need some time off.”
“I’m fine, Keatyn.”
“No, Mom. You’re not. And I know you planted all the stuff in the press about the affairs and about your health.”
Mom lets out a big sigh. “Does Tommy know?”
“Not yet, but he will. Don’t let this ruin your relationship. You have to stop lying to Tommy. And me. We can handle the truth. Seriously. And I am going to handle it.”
“Keatyn, you’re just a child.”
“No, I’m not. My sisters are children. I met with Garrett today. I know about the breach in security. I know Vincent hasn’t stopped sending you stuff. Scary stuff.”
Mom starts to cry. “He . . . He . . . left black roses on the swing set. Four of them. One for each of the girls. He sent a photo of Tommy getting out of a car in the city, and it was photoshopped so . . . so that . . . Tommy had been shot in the head. I can’t do this anymore. If he wants me, then he can have me.”
“But that’s the thing, Mom. He doesn’t want you. He wants me.”
“Well, he can’t have you!”
“He’s not going to. Garrett and I have a plan that takes you and the girls out of the mix. But I need your help. With the press.”
“I need you to announce that for your health and well-being, you’re taking a break from the movie industry. If they ask where you’re going or what you’re doing, you’ll have no comment.”
“They’ll ask about Tommy.”
“That’s an easy answer. Tommy will be filming Retribution in New York and you will not be joining him.”
“Everyone will assume we’re not together anymore.”
“That’s exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but then . . .” Mom starts sobbing. “I’ve been trying to hold it together. But it’s so hard. I’ve missed you so much, Keatyn. But I’ve been so afraid. Afraid he’d get my phone and find your number. Afraid someone would overhear me talking to you. I needed you to stay safe. You’re my baby. And this is all my fault. I thought if I left the girls safe with James and went on the press tour that maybe he’d just take me instead.”
Tears stream down my face. I had almost started to think that she didn’t care about me anymore.
“Remember New York, Mom? When Vincent chased after me?”
“He was following you, but it was me that he chased. It’s me that he wants. And that means it’s time for me to take control of this situation.”
“Take control how?”
“Well, to start with, Garrett works for me now. You have to promise, no making up plans of your own, okay?”
“Okay,” she says cautiously.
I can tell she hasn’t fully committed.
“You and I agree on one important thing, Mom. And that’s keeping the girls safe. Go to France. Relax. Eat. Get some sleep. Have fun with the girls. And know that Vincent is going to be busy with other stuff.”
“What other stuff?”
“Well, aside from the premieres and press that’s due to start on your movie, we’re going to mess with his business.”
“Does he care that much about his business?”
“His business owns the rights to remake your movie. The movie seems to be the core of his obsession. If he is at risk of losing it . . .”
“He won’t have time to worry about us.”
“That’s the theory, yes.”
“I like that. It feels like we’re fighting back.”
“I like it too.”
“Does Garrett really think it will work?”
“Yes, he’s completely on board,” I say confidently. Well, okay, like, mostly on board. “So, are you in?”
“Do you promise me that everything you do will be approved by Garrett?”
“Garrett or Cooper,” I reply, not wanting to lie to her.
She exhales heavily, like maybe I’ve lifted a weight off her shoulders.
“Then I’m in.”
“Good. I love you, Mom. I have to get back to school, but call me once you get settled, okay?”
“I will. And I love you too.”
With her mother agreeing to take herself and the girls to France, Keatyn is ready to set her plan in motion.
I go into the stairwell and make myself at home on a cold, hard cement step. I pull up the video conferencing software and click on B’s photo. While I’m waiting for him to come online, I stare at his tan face.
I close my eyes and remember what it was like with him. So different than it was with Cush.
It was never fast. One time, I wanted to do it on the beach—like, quick—and he told me sex isn’t about just riding the wave. That it should be the joining of mind, body, and soul. That it’s waxing your board, paddling out, floating over the swells, patiently waiting for and preparing yourself for the bigger wave. Then it’s all about working your way back to shore.
It never felt like just sex with him.
But I know why.
It’s because I loved him.
But then I think about Dawson and how hot it was.
How Aiden can make me feel on fire with a single touch.
And I can’t help it. I want it all. The connection and the heat.
I think about his surfing reference of working your way back to shore. Which is fitting because it’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Get back to my family. To him. To my home. To our beach.
I know I can’t keep going like this.
I hear him say, “Keats?”
My eyes fly open. “Sorry, I was just thinking about surfing.” I start to get tears in my eyes. “God, I miss you. For two years, I saw you almost every day. I feel like a piece of me is missing.”
“I feel like a part of me is missing too. I miss everyone. Our beach.”
“Are you getting tired of traveling?”
“The flights are a bitch sometimes, and I complain about it. But then I find myself on another amazing beach. Kinda like our summer of waves—all the beaches we discovered. Except bigger and better.”
“It was a good summer.”
“Yeah, it was. So, I’m sorry, I haven’t had time to get together with the guy on the takeover stuff yet. I will, though. This week or next, maybe.”
“But, I thought that’s why we were talking tonight, so we could get started? We need to start now, B. You don’t understand. There are a lot of moving parts to this.”
“What do you mean?”
“It has to be timed so that it hits Vincent all at once.”
“A hostile takeover alone won’t do it. I have to push him from every direction. The publicity for Mom’s movie starts this week. We have to start this week.”
I’m starting to panic. I need this to go according to plan. It has to.
“Oh,” he says. He closes his eyes and looks down. I notice he looks stressed.
“I have something I need to tell you.”
“Something was delivered to my hotel room earlier.”
“What?” I say, instantly on edge.
“A box. In it was a framed photo of me, taken when they handed me the trophy this past, uh, weekend,” he stutters again. He’s shaken.
“Can I see it?”
“Garrett made me send it to him, hoping for forensics.”
“He won’t find any.”
“Probably not, but I took pictures of it. The ones I texted him when I got it.”
“Send them to me.”
I watch as he grabs his phone off the table. He gives me a bleak look and I wish I could reach through the phone and brush the lines of stress from his face. They just don’t look right on him.
My phone vibrates with the text.
“I know this is going to upset me so, before I see it, I just want to tell you how proud I am of you. How, through all this shit, you’ve grown and focused and taken a chance on your dream.” I put my fingers against the computer screen.
He mimics me, our hands touching tenderly onscreen.
“I was serious when I said I wouldn’t be here without you. That night at the Undertow was a turning point in my life.”
In both our lives, I think, remembering falling straight into Vincent’s arms.
I keep my hand glued to his as I look down and see the photos pop up on my screen. I click on the first one, making it bigger. It’s of a plain white gift box, white tissue paper pulled open, and black rose petals sprinkled around an ornate black picture frame.
I look up at him. “I just looked at the first photo with the black rose petals, so I know it’s from Vincent. B, have you been keeping anything from me?”
He stutters, “Uh, um . . .”
“Look, it’s okay if you have. My mom did the same thing, trying to protect me. So, if you’ve gotten other things from Vincent, or seen him, tell me now.”
“What? Uh, no. He’s never been spotted, other than Long Beach. But, except for Hawaii, my tournaments have been out of the country.”
“And he’s never sent you anything else or threatened you in any way?”
“No. Other than not being able to see you, this whole thing really hasn’t affected me that much. Until now.”
I look at the second text. This one is a close-up version of the photo inside the picture frame. I can see B holding a trophy above his head in victory. It’s exactly as I imagined the scene when I heard it. But then I notice writing on the bottom. I quickly zoom in to read, I wouldn’t be here without you. I love you, Keats. I smile until I notice the spots. I squint, trying to figure out what they are.
“What are you looking at?”
“Your quote. But I see spots around them and I—” I instantly lose my voice as my eyes focus in on the reason for the red spots. There’s a single bullet hole in Brooklyn’s forehead and the whole back of his head is blown away. A horrible special effect frozen in time.
I drop my phone into my lap and cover my eyes with my hand, willing my brain to wipe away what I just saw. No wonder Mom freaked when she got a similar photo of Tommy.
I uncover my eyes, B’s face a welcome sight compared to the horrible image in the photo. “What you said about me has put you in danger.” Guilt, love, and horror swirl in my brain causing tears to spill down my face and filling me with hysteria. “I’m so sorry, B. I’m so sorry you had to see that. You never . . . should’ve . . . said you love me.”
“Um, about that.”
“The I love you part.”
“That’s what made you a target. This photo is for me, not you. He’s trying to scare me,” I sob. “He’s succeeding.”
“Keats, look, I just need to tell you something . . .”
“You have gotten other stuff from him?”
“No, it’s, well, there’s this girl . . .”
His words feel like a punch to the gut, knocking the wind out of me.
“No! Don’t, B,” I beg, covering my eyes again. “Don’t say it. I can’t hear it. Not right now.”
“Keats. I know you’re seeing . . .”
“No, don’t! Just lie to me.” I feel like a riptide is pulling me under, drowning me. I’m crying hysterically now. I put my hand against my forehead, trying to calm myself down, but I can’t. My heart’s beating wildly.
“You need to calm down.”
And that sets me off. “Calm down?! Calm down?! The only thing that’s getting me through this is the thought of being able to go home. You made me promise you another chance. That we’d be back on our beach. I can’t do all I’m about to do if you aren’t gonna be back on that beach with me.” I sob more. “I just want to go home. He ruined our beach, B. I want it back. I want my family back. You and the beach are part of my home. I. Just. Need. To. Go. Home.”
“It sucks, but . . .”
“No buts! What if that horrible picture happens?”
B nods and buries his face in his hands.
Then he looks up at me with a mix of tears and determination in his eyes. “You’re right. We have to do this. We have to get our lives back. I’ll text you with a time to talk to the takeover guy.” He puts his hand back on the screen. I reach up and touch it. “And I promise when this is over, we’ll both go home.” I nod as he says, “I love you, Keats,” kisses his tattoo, and gently closes his laptop.
I shut mine too.
I’m sure he’s seeing someone. And it’s okay if he is, but I need him in this with me. I’m not sure I have the guts or the courage to do it alone.
I love you flits through my brain. I do love B. I just don’t know what kind of love it is anymore. And, based on what he says, he doesn’t know either. Still, I know he’s part of the mix. Of all the people I love. Of my family. Of my friends. Of him. My home. And I know that neither one of us will be able to go forward without going home first.
I sneak back into my bedroom and try to go to sleep, but every time I close my eyes, I see the photo Vincent sent B.
Only I see it in motion.