ON ANGEL'S WINGS
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out
"Are you sure you're all right?"
Madeleine took a sip of water, raising her dark eyes to meet Luca's concerned green ones. She offered him a faint smile, nodding her head as she settled herself more comfortably on her bed, her dressing gown wrapped comfortingly around her body.
"I promise." She agreed. "It was just a dizzy spell. Things have been intense lately and I have been pushing myself way too hard to keep everything together and as normal as possible...that's all. Worrying about the notes and Tante Regine and work..." She paused, shaking her head.
"It just got on top of me tonight." She concluded. "That and the hot lights. I'm fine, really. Or as fine as I can be when someone's trying to bleed money out of me."
"You should let that go for tonight and worry about it in the morning." Clay put in from across the room. "If you want, give me the letter and the information and I'll deal with it for you. You need to do as Rory says and take it easy - you were out for more than a couple of seconds tonight and you probably should have seen someone."
"I don't like doctors." Madeleine looked pensive, setting her drink down on the unit. "They always find a thousand things wrong with you that you'd rather they'd never bothered to mention. Plus there'd be a media frenzy, if one of us was rushed to hospital after a live show. This way we might at least avoid it being in the presses. I'd rather noone knew how crazy things are for me at the moment. The less he sees how he's affecting me, the better I feel about it."
"But you shouldn't let him hurt you like this." Marissa sat on the bed, reaching to take Madeleine's hand gently in hers. "Stef was right about that, you know. It will only get worse. There must be another way around it - some way to stop him without exposing your secret."
"Short of hiring a hitman, I'm not sure how." Clay put in sardonically. Marissa grimaced at him.
"Clay, that wasn't what I meant." She scolded. "Just that paying him off is just going to make him ask for more money. You should listen to Steffi on this, Mad...simply because she's had more experience with dealing with these kinds of people. Paying him is not the solution - it just makes your problem bigger."
"I know." A shadow touched Madeleine's face and she sighed, leaning up against her headboard. "I get it, Mari. I do. But right now my mind is devoid of other ideas. Paying him at least buys me some time...though admittedly, not very much time. Two notes in the space of a week is pretty full on."
"Perhaps he'll lose interest." Luca suggested. Madeleine snorted.
"Please." She said bitterly. "I'm a guaranteed source of income - probably far more so than the random findings he's had from his burglaries. He tries to shift stolen goods and he's liable to get caught - but blackmailing someone like me is easy. All he has to do is collect. I don't think he's going to get bored with me any time soon."
"Maybe not." Stefana pushed open the door of the bedroom, catching the end of the conversation. "But he will be preoccupied for quite some time."
"What do you mean, Stef?" Luca frowned. "What did that creep McMillan want?"
"He gave me something to give to Maddy." Stefana said quietly, meeting Madeleine's alarmed gaze with an impassive one of her own. She held out the folder. "Here. I think this belongs to you."
In numb silence, Madeleine took the file, opening it and glancing through the contents. At length she looked up, her face ashen.
"I told you not to get McMillan involved." She whispered. "Steffi,
have you done?"
"What you should have done right from the start." Stefana said pragmatically, coming into the room and shutting the door behind her. "Dealt with your problem."
"Stef, McMillan is a tabloid journalist." Clay said darkly. "How in hell is getting him involved going to help Maddy keep her secret a secret? Don't you realise that you've taken this from the frying pan and dumped it good and hard into the middle of a big blazing bonfire? He'll have his headline in the Tribune before you can say blackmail."
"No, he won't." Stefana shook his head. "And I didn't go to him,
He came to me. He had photographs - pictures of you making the drop at
the chemical plant. Much as I tried to dissuade him, he's smart enough
to know that you were there for a reason and that reason was blackmail.
So I cut a deal with him. He has contacts, and I made him use them,
all. He tracked down the guy through some people he knows and from what
he said, the jerk will be far too busy dealing with the LAPD to worry
making extra cash off you."
She smiled ironically.
"So you can forget your hurried fundraiser." She added. "You won't hear from him again."
Madeleine was silent for a moment, digesting this. Then she met Stefana's gaze apprehensively.
"What kind of a deal?" She asked softly. "Steffi, what did you have to give him to get him to do this for me? And why would he? What makes you think he won't renege and print my story anyway?"
"He gave me his word." Stefana said simply. "And as much of a jerk as he can be, when he makes me a promise, he does stick to it. He won't print your story, Mad. As for what I had to give him...None of that matters to you. Just take it from me that he has no further interest in writing your story. Let it go at that. Why ask questions? You got what you wanted and your secret is safe."
Something in Stefana's tone made Madeleine glance up sharply, flicking the folder shut.
"You know what's in here, don't you."
It was a statement rather than a question. Stefana shrugged her shoulders.
"Maybe." She said dismissively. Madeleine frowned.
"This folder is private, Steffi..."
"And I got it back for you, because you were too much of a wimp to get it back for yourself." Stefana interrupted. "Either way, your blackmailer will be doing some serious time for his robberies in the near future. Darren assured me he'd be far from wanting to bother you again. He's seen to that. They had words."
"I don't get it." Luca sent Stefana a puzzled look. "Why would McMillan care about helping Maddy? They've barely even spoken."
"Beats me." Stefana admitted. "He didn't tell me. He did give me his word though, Luca. And I believe him. He might be an ass sometimes, but this time he's an ass who went out of his way to help us. I say we just accept it. Maddy can stop panicking. I can't guarantee you'll get your ten grand back - or that Regine will get all or any of her belongings returned. But at least there won't be a hot scandal in tomorrow's press about one of us."
Madeleine set the folder down on the bedcovers, eying Stefana warily.
"And you?" She asked quietly. "What are you going to do about it?"
"What do you want me to do about it?" Stefana returned. "It doesn't
affect me. Do you think I'd sell out one of my own band to the papers
to make a bit of extra cash? No way. Maybe I'd have done it to
I think I did, once or twice. But we're Diablo. We're a team. Isn't
how your pep talk goes?"
Despite herself, a faint smile touched Madeleine's lips.
"Yes, I suppose so." She said, relief flickering in her dark eyes. "Later, Stef, we'll talk. I'm so tired now, but we will, I promise. We need to, now. I want to know exactly what Darren said and how much you and he know. But...but thank you. I know I haven't seemed that grateful - but I am. Really I am. I'm just..."
"A touch out of it." She concluded. "It's been a difficult few days."
"Do you suppose Regine knows that her burglar has been caught?" Marissa wondered. "If Darren managed to get your files, Maddy, he must know where the rest of this guy's junk is stashed. If he hasn't sold it on, she might yet get her things back."
"I don't know." Madeleine admitted. "But I ought to give her a call. It's late, but I can leave a message on her voicemail. And then I'm going to try and get some sleep and believe that Darren McMillan does have a benevolent bone somewhere in his body. Right now I guess I have no choice but to trust him - at least it's better than some anonymous jerk sending me typed mail."
She leaned across to scoop up her cellphone from the bedside cabinet, and as she did so, her elbow knocked the file on the bedcovers beside her, sending it flying across the room. Madeleine let out a shriek of dismay as the file collided with the end of the bed, falling open and sending the papers every which way. Instinctively Luca got to his knees, gathering them together as Clay retrieved the dark blue file from where it had landed. Stefana, catching sight of the look of alarm on the singer's face, pushed her brother roughly out of the way, grabbing up the sheets and snatching the file out of Clay's hands. She shoved the stray papers into the folder, fastening it shut.
"You need to be more careful what you do with this." She told Madeleine acerbically, dropping it down on the end of the bed. "I'm going to bed. I'll see you tomorrow...but right now I'm tired and I've had enough dramatics for one day."
With that she was gone, bedroom door swinging shut behind her, and for a moment silence reigned in the bedroom. Madeleine retrieved the file, pausing as she took in the expression on Luca's face. She muttered a curse under her breath, shaking her head slowly.
"You should have left them be." She whispered. "Luca, you shouldn't
have touched them. You should have let Stef..."
"Why didn't you tell us you were H.I.V positive?"
Luca spoke in low tones, and it was clear he was fighting his emotions. A gasp went up from Marissa on the bed, who shot Madeleine a horrified look.
"Maddy?" She exclaimed. "Oh my God, is that what you thought you couldn't tell us? Is that what this has all been about?"
Madeleine buried her head in her hands.
"You could at least have kept your big mouth shut, Luca." She muttered. "If I'd wanted you to know, don't you think I would have confided in you already?"
"I don't understand." Luca looked bewildered. "Why wouldn't you tell us...something like that? Why wouldn't you trust us?"
"It's not about trust." Madeleine raised her gaze to his, tears in her eyes. "Except that I can't trust you to keep your hands and eyes and words to yourself, obviously. When Stef came in here, I knew she knew what was in there, but she didn't open her mouth and tell everyone. I never thought I'd ever say this, but maybe you could have followed her example and respected my privacy, just for a change!"
"Maddy, cool it." Clay put a gentle hand on her arm, as Luca gaped at her, speechless. "What's done is done."
"That should be my motto." Madeleine said flatly. "No going back."
"I never wanted to have this conversation with any of you." She added. "And if you don't mind, I don't want to have it now, either. Bad enough that Luca's read something that's none of his business. Even worse that he's blurted out the first thing that came into his head, as per usual. Now if you have any respect left for my privacy at all, I want you to go. All of you. Leave me alone. I want to sleep and I don't want to hear how sorry you are or how we're friends regardless or any other kneejerk reactions. I'm too tired to handle this tonight."
"Maddy..." Luca recovered scraps of his composure, but Madeleine held up her hands.
"No." She said emphatically. "I will not talk about this. Get out of my room, all of you. I want to be alone."
Luca's eyes clouded over with hurt, but he nodded his head.
"All right." He said softly. "Good night, Maddy. Sleep well."
Marissa scrambled off the bed, pausing to cast the singer an anxious glance, then sliding her hand into Clay's.
"If you need to talk, you know where to find us." She added quietly. "Come on, Clay, Luca. She wants some time to herself and we should let her rest - she's had a busy night already."
Once she was alone, Madeleine sank back against the pillows, tears spilling down her cheeks as she remembered Luca's expression.
"My files are safe." She asked herself aloud. "But at what cost to my friendships?"
* * *
* * * *
University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out
Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out
Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life
Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits
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