Authors: Mia Caldwell
“I don’t see how it could have fooled anyone with decent
eyesight and half a brain,” he said, handing it back to Jada.
“Exactly,” she said, “which means Sylvia had to know it was
fake. So when she told Marina that she only took the money to call in the tip,
she was definitely lying. She accepted a bribe for the tip
to file a
“That seems the likeliest conclusion,” Ian said.
Jada blew out a long breath. “Wow. Poor Sylvia.”
“She must have really been hard up for cash to break the law
and risk her job. I don’t see how she’ll get out of this without being fired at
the very least, and she might get charges filed against her, depending on what
Ophelia decides to do.”
Ian marveled that Jada could sympathize with someone who had
been partly responsible for everything that had happened in the past week. “We
don’t know everything yet. Don’t get too worried over her until we know the
“I won’t,” Jada said. “Anyway, going on with the timeline,
Sylvia accepted the money and the license Wednesday morning, but before she
could enter it into the system, she was called away by her son’s emergency at
school. That afternoon, Mrs. Nell entered incorrect information into the
database. The next morning, Sylvia called Marina and asked her to leak a story
to CGTV about shocking information regarding you and Sasha. Marina tried to get
the network interested, but she didn’t have any luck until Friday morning, when
she talked to a different person.”
“I’m following so far,” Ian said.
“Good. On Friday afternoon, a woman, probably Piper Sandy,
came to the records department, got a printout of Mrs. Nell’s incorrect entry,
then left. She didn’t keep CGTV’s promise to Marina that they’d share whatever
they found with her. That sounds exactly like something Piper would do.” Jada’s
upper lip curled. “She’s shady.”
“I would have called her something worse than shady.” He
eyed the rest of Jada’s lunch. “Can I have that?”
She laughed. “You sound like Sasha. You can have half of it.”
He tore the burger in half and dug in.
Jada forged onward. “Piper broke the story online and on TV
some time overnight. We found out about it Saturday morning. Marina called
Sylvia to bitch her out for what she did, and discovered Sylvia had left town
and that she planned to hide out until everything blew over. When she was asked
about how she could use Marina to harm me, Sylvia said she didn’t know I was
involved, implying she hadn’t seen the license. That was a blatant lie,
probably so she wouldn’t be connected to the fake license, only to the tip.”
“Exactly,” Ian said. “And she didn’t want to admit how badly
she’d used both you and Marina.”
“When Marina tried to call her again, Sylvia ducked her
calls and texts and everything else Marina tried. She went off-grid.”
Ian laughed briefly. “Off-grid. Doubt she’s that
Her pretty eyes twinkled. “Don’t tease. You know what I
mean. So, that’s where everything stood until this morning, when thanks to your
pressure over the weekend, CGTV was at the courthouse bright and early to get
the copy of the marriage license. Instead, they got a second bombshell and
raced off to spread the news. Do you think it was Piper who showed up at the
courthouse this morning?”
“No. I think Violet would have mentioned the woman was rude,
or obnoxious. She said the woman was young and polite.”
“Not Piper then. Probably a random employee,” Jada said.
“Next, Zeke showed up and found out there was no hard copy of your marriage
license. Not long after that, CGTV broke the story that I married Sasha. And
that brings us up to now.”
“It’s a lot of information to keep straight,” Ian admitted.
“How much longer do you think it will be before your people
track down Sylvia?”
“Could be any time. It won’t be difficult for them.”
Jada’s nose wrinkled in dismay. “If only I had been on top
of this during the weekend. We’d already know where Sylvia is, would have
already talked to her and CGTV would never—”
“You don’t know that,” Ian interrupted. “Don’t play the ‘if
only’ game. It never does any good.”
She paused, looking out the windshield at the playing
children, then turning back to Ian. “We’re still left with the million-dollar
question. Who created the fake marriage license and bribed Sylvia to file it
and tip off CGTV? I think it has to be—”
“CGTV,” Ian said.
Jada’s brows shot upward. “It had to be one of Sasha’s model
frenemies. What makes you still think CGTV is behind everything? It doesn’t add
“Sure it does. They planted the license, they bribed Sylvia,
they deliberately told her to leak it back to them so no one would suspect
CGTV’s hand in the affair when the truth about the fake license was
Ian knew he was right, but he didn’t want to push too hard.
He didn’t want Jada thinking he didn’t take her suspects seriously, even if
that were the truth. It was something Jada didn’t need to know.
“Why would they run the story about you and me getting
married if they knew it wasn’t what they’d planted at the records department?”
“They didn’t care. One scandal or another, it’s all the same
to them as long as the info’s juicy. The information was in the official
record, so they figured why not run with what they had, even if it wasn’t what
“I don’t know.” Jada’s phone buzzed. “Hold on. It’s a text
from Marina. Maybe she found something.”
He watched her read the text. She was achingly lovely today.
He hadn’t touched her once. Not even for a quick kiss. It had been a rough day.
Jada’s face fell. “Looks like we have to cross two of
Sasha’s enemies off the suspect list. Marina says Esmer Granger and Petra
Sukolova were working in Milan last week. She’s got proof.”
Jada sent off a quick response. “Esmer and Petra may have
hired someone to do their dirty work for them.”
“Sounds like a stretch.”
“Probably, but I’m not counting them out entirely. Not yet.
For all practical purposes, though, I’m left with Freya Volker as my prime
suspect. I’m lukewarm about her. Sasha said they’d recently made up their
differences and that they’d been friendly for a while. Marina still hasn’t been
able to touch base with Freya, unfortunately.”
“Any ideas about what we should do while we wait for what’s
next?” he asked.
“We could go to the city, to your offices. I’m sure you have
work to catch up on and maybe I could help in the search for Sylvia. Is Raul
still waiting with the helicopter at the armory field?”
“He is. Shall we head over?”
“Yes, please.” She smiled at him. “You know, you’re super
sexy right now.”
“Is that so? How sexy?”
“I’d tell you, but the buzzing from your phone is distracting
Ian hadn’t noticed, he’d been so intent on Jada. He picked
up his phone and quickly read the text.
He turned to Jada with a wide smile. “It’s from my
assistant, Cathy. Looks like our trip to the city will have to wait.
Jada’s wide eyes sparkled with excitement. “Is it ...?”
“It is. They found Sylvia.”
Jada clapped her hands in delight, threw her arms around his
neck and kissed him hard.
For Ian, the day no longer had a single rough spot left on
IT WAS NEARLY TWO IN the afternoon and the sun beat down on
the blacktop, bouncing heat waves onto Jada’s legs as she and Ian crossed the
motel parking lot. The tang of tar, gasoline and decaying vegetation prickled
The motel was depressing. Half the letters were missing on
the motel sign, transforming EZ Rest Arms Motel into EZ Re m ote. The building
hadn’t been painted any time in this century, and tall weeds lined the lot,
doing little to hide the blown trash piled against the sagging chain link
fence. On one side of the lot sat a small, kidney-shaped pool with cracking
cement, its faded bottom half-covered in slimy, green scum floating on stagnant
“Welcome to the other side,” she told Ian.
“I’m not as insulated as you think,” he said. “I know about
places like these.”
Jada thought if he knew about motels like this one, it was
only from seeing them on television or in movies. There was no way he could
understand what it meant to only be able to afford a motel like this one, not
with his golden-spoon life. But she’d never say that to him.
A couple of Ian’s employees already had the motel staked out
by the time Ian and Jada had arrived. They’d assured Ian that Sylvia and her
family were inside their room.
Jada followed the plan she and Ian had devised. They stopped
outside Sylvia’s room. Jada heard the muffled chatter of children behind the
door. She knocked.
After some scuffling and the sounds of multiple locks
clicking, the door swung open. Sylvia stood there, wearing a neon-colored tank
top and shorts, her thick black hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. She
started a greeting, then paused as her jaw went slack.
“Jada?” She tilted her head to one side as if the angle
would help her see past Jada’s disguise.
Jada lowered her glasses and peered over the top. “Hi
Sylvia gasped then covered her gaping mouth with both hands.
Behind her, from the room’s dark interior, came a man’s voice, presumably
“Is that the pizza?” he asked.
Sylvia snapped to, slipping out the door and pulling it most
of the way closed. She called through the crack, “It’s someone from the front
desk. They lost our registration info. I’m going to the office. Be right back.”
A child cried out, “I wanna go,” as Sylvia pulled the door
“What are you doing here?” Sylvia hissed, low.
“Right back atcha,” Jada said. “We need to talk. Come on,
before your family sees us.”
Sylvia frowned down at her bare feet.
“We’ve got a room only two doors down,” Jada reassured her.
Sylvia made a face like she wanted to argue, then she took
stock of the tall man behind Jada. She goggled at Ian and whatever courage
she’d mustered up to defy Jada evaporated.
Ian gestured toward the room and Sylvia trudged along,
resigned to her fate for now.
The interior of Room 145 was no better than the exterior. It
was dank, gloomy and depressing. It smelled faintly of dog pee and strongly of
chemical sanitizer. At least the air conditioning was on, so it was cool, and
once Jada removed her glasses and got a good look around, she saw that although
everything was banged up, scratched and/or stained, it appeared to be decently
She took a seat at a tiny table near the window and gestured
for Sylvia to take the other. Sylvia sat and glanced at Ian, who removed his
sunglasses and leaned against the white, concrete-block wall with his hands in
his pockets, his expression nonchalant.
Jada didn’t blame him for standing. He probably didn’t want
to sit on the dubious bedspread. Plus, she was pretty sure he was pulling the
“put the ladies at ease” maneuver like he did at the courthouse.
“Sylvia, I’d like to introduce you to Ian Buckley,” Jada
said. “Ian, this is Sylvia Watson.”
Ian smiled blandly and nodded at Sylvia who flushed a bright
Sylvia looked down at the carpet then over to Jada. She said
nothing, just stared hard, her lips pursed tightly, cheeks and neck blazing.
Jada knew this game. She stared back at her opponent,
keeping her face as blank as possible. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Silence continued.
Jada squelched any temptation to bounce a knee or tap a finger on the table.
Tick-tock. Silence. Sweat broke out on Sylvia’s forehead and
a single bead rolled down and dripped off her chin onto her chest. Her cheek
and lips twitched.
Finally, Sylvia cracked. “Oh gawd! I’m so sorry, Jada. You
don’t know. I’m a horrible person.” She began to sob and covered her face in
Jada wasn’t unmoved, but she did her best to look like she
was. She pulled some tissues from her purse and handed them to the distraught
woman. “It’s okay. Take these.”
Sylvia scrubbed the tissues over suspiciously dry cheeks,
particularly suspiciously for someone who had been making gasping sounds like
she was crying her heart out. Jada’s wave of sympathy receded.
“I know I’ve done wrong,” Sylvia said in between panting
hitches in her breathing. “I-I-I feel t-t-t-terrible. I’m so weak. And I needed
the money so badly. I don’t know how I can ever forgive myself.”
She should be worrying more about getting forgiven by the
people she hurt, Jada thought.
Jada nodded like she was buying the charade and handed
Sylvia more tissues, which Sylvia wadded up and added to the other dry ones.
“I never thought in a million years that taking the money
for that tip would ever hurt you in any way,” Sylvia said, giving a bad
impersonation of someone sincere. “The woman who paid me said to tell the TV
station there was something shocking about the supermodel Sasha in our records
department. I don’t know Sasha personally, so I didn’t worry about it, you
know? And we’re so hard up since my husband lost his job.”
“You never saw that shocking thing, whatever it was?” Jada
“Oh no,” Sylvia said. “I had no idea what the woman was
talking about, and I didn’t care. I took the money and went straight home. I
thought about it the rest of the day, and came to regret taking the money, but
it was too late. I didn’t know who the woman was so I couldn’t return the cash.
I was too afraid not to go through with it, but I didn’t want to be connected
to the tip, so the next morning I called and asked Marina for her help. Then I
packed up my family and we hit the road. I didn’t want to be around when
whatever was going to happen, happened.”
Jada looked at Ian to see if she could read what he thought
of Sylvia’s confession. A slight lowering of his eyelids and a barely-discernible
shake of his head told her he wasn’t buying the story any more than she was.
“What did you think when you saw what they did to me on CGTV
Saturday morning?” Jada asked. “How they raked me over the coals and called me
everything shy of a Jezebel, and probably only left out that because they
didn’t think of it.”
Sylvia blinked, flinched.
It was time to hit her where Jada hoped it would hurt. “And
what do you think about today, and the latest lies about me marrying Sasha? I’m
the Bisexual Bigamist, have you heard? It’s probably cost me my job. I’ll
likely have to leave Springers Glen forever because of this, even if my
innocence is eventually revealed.”
Sylvia’s lower lip quivered.
Jada forged on with a final thrust. “People will never look
at me the way they once did. Never. They’ll only see the scandal, not the
person. And I may never be able to live that down. My life will never be the
same. Because this happened.”
Sylvia’s eyes slowly filled with real tears. The tip of her
nose turned red.
Jada thought about what she’d said, about how it was true,
and how painful it had been to say it out loud. Her honesty radiated outward,
reaching across the table and demanding Sylvia face her part in causing Jada’s
Silence, but for a sniff from Sylvia. Then another sniffle
and another. She blinked watery eyes, swiped her nose with the tissues still
crumpled in her hand.
Any second, Jada thought, willing herself into complete
stillness. To wait. Wait until ...
Sylvia sobbed once, hiccuped, then burst into wholesale tears.
This time, when she buried her face in her hands, tears dripped between her
fingers and splashed onto the tabletop.
In between sobs, she repeated, “I’m sorry. So sorry.”
This time, Jada believed her. She passed her all the tissues
she had left. “It’s okay. It’s okay,” she repeated.
It took a few minutes for the worst of Sylvia’s tears to
subside. Jada had to resist the urge to comfort and hug her, and she looked to
Ian for strength. He gave her a stern, approving nod, encouraging her to be
strong, to stay firm so they could get the whole story.
Sylvia’s wet face, her running nose and her bright red eyes,
made for a heart-wrenching sight. She pressed soggy tissues against her cheeks.
“Th-thanks for the tissues. You’re so kind, and I’m ... I’m such a shit.”
Jada straightened her back and her resolve while Sylvia
moaned about how she’d done a terrible, terrible thing. Which was true, Jada
told herself. Sylvia had definitely done wrong.
Ian brought Sylvia a glass of water, which she drank down
quickly, thanking Ian profusely.
“Are you okay?” Jada asked.
Sylvia dabbed at the corners of her eyes. “No. But I’ll stop
crying now. Sorry I broke down like that. I’ve been really stressed.”
“I know the feeling,” Jada said drily.
Sylvia’s thin shoulders sagged. “And it’s all my fault. I
don’t know what to say. I’m so ashamed. I lied to you about everything. I don’t
know why I did it. I mean, I know why I lied. I’m afraid of what’s going to
happen to me and my family when the truth comes out. What I meant was that I don’t
know how I convinced myself to do what the woman wanted. That it would be okay
and no one would get hurt. Know what I mean?”
Jada struggled to make sense of her jumbled sentences. “I
“I’ve been wishing so hard that I could go back in time, undo
it all. How could I do what I did? And how could I do that to you? There’s no
way to make it all right. You have to hate me, and I know Marina hates me,
“We don’t hate you.”
“You should. You don’t know what I did. All for money. We
needed it so bad, though, but if I’d realized ... it kills me I can’t make it
“Maybe not, Sylvia, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing
you can do to help.”
“I’ll do anything you want. It’s only right and I need to do
the right thing now.” Sylvia looked down at the scratched formica tabletop. She
was limp and emotionally defeated. “I’ll do anything, even ... you know.”
On their way to the motel, Ian had helped Jada build a brick
wall inside herself as self-defense against Sylvia playing on her sympathies.
It had protected her well, until now. When Jada heard the desperation and fear
in Sylvia’s voice, the wall crumbled away, disappeared. Jada suddenly felt like
“I’m not going to ask you to turn yourself in or anything
like that, Sylvia,” she said. “I wouldn’t do that.”
Ian scowled at Jada and she ignored him. She knew she was
going against the plan. He’d made it clear that they should maintain a silent
threat of exposing Sylvia to the authorities as a means of coercing her to tell
them everything she knew.
Now Jada had removed that threat. And she didn’t care that
Ian wasn’t happy about it. She had to go with her gut, and her gut was telling
her to relieve Sylvia’s fears, not as a ploy, but as a simple act of
Sylvia’s head lifted and she gazed at Jada with wide eyes.
“You’re not? Why?”
“Because I know why you did it. You have children, a family
to support. You needed the money. Your husband got laid off, the unemployment
is gone, and the bills are piling up. Looking around this motel, it’s clear you
didn’t take the money and blow it on a fancy vacation and five-star
Sylvia half-laughed and half-wept. “Yeah, well, this is
still the first vacation I’ve had in six years.”
“Pizza any good?” Jada asked.
“The kids love it. I like the five-dollar subs down the
They sat for a moment in silence, contemplating one another.
Jada didn’t look at Ian.
Sylvia took a deep breath and sat up straighter. “Well,
you’re not here to take me in, so what do you want? You name it, you’ve got
“I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me everything that happened
and everything you know about the woman who started all of this last Wednesday
“Yes. Of course. I’ll tell you everything I know.” She took
a drink of water and readied herself. “Where do I start?”
Jada flipped open her notebook and prepared to take notes.