Chapter Eight: Blackmail

"Maddy? Post for you."

Marissa poked her head around her friend's bedroom door, casting the singer a grin. "Hey, don't look like that. It's not bills. Fanmail, cheer up. Clay got sent a pair of girl's panties, and he's trying to live it down...come join us downstairs, huh?"

"Fanmail?" Madeleine looked startled. "I didn't realise today was a delivery day. Are there many for me?"

"A few." Marissa brought the rest of her body into the room. "I brought them up - Luca said you were taking a nap, or something, but since you're awake, don't you want to come downstairs?"

"I'll take a raincheck." Madeleine held out her hand for the letters. "Sorry, Mari. I haven't even got to the nap stage yet. I've been too busy going over something for...for Tante Regine. I'm probably not great company."

"Suit yourself." Marissa handed the letters over, dimpling. "But I'm telling you, Clay's face was a scream."

"I'll be down in an hour or two." Madeleine promised. "Thanks, Mari. Sorry to be a drag. I just seem to have so much going on at the moment."

"It's cool. I'll pass the message on." Marissa shrugged. "Later, Maddy. I'm going to go tease Clay some more."

She withdrew from the room, leaving Madeleine alone once more.

Slowly she scooped up the small pile of envelopes, glancing over them. As she did so, one in particular caught her eye and she paused, a chill touching her heart. The others had all been stamped by the delivery company that handled their fanmail, but this one's envelope was completely bare of any franking, and had obviously been hand-delivered. The address was typed, with three spelling errors and one mistake in the zip-code, and something about it's strange appearance put Madeleine on edge.

Dropping the others back onto the bedclothes, she turned the odd letter over, slitting open the envelope with her nail and pulling out the contents. The envelope held two sheets of paper, stapled together at the top, and Madeleine blanched as she registered what the first sheet was. Swallowing hard, she ran her finger over the letter, recognising only too well the logo in the top corner and the details it contained.

"My papers." She whispered. "Oh no..."

With shaking hands, she tore the first sheet off, pushing it under her pillow. Then, sprawling out on her front, she smoothed the second sheet out on the covers, staring at it with uncomprehending eyes. Although the letter was typed in clear, bold font, it took three attempts for her to read and digest the contents. At length she did so, mouthing the words aloud.

"I know the truth." She whispered. "Bring $10,000 to the old chemical plant at midnight tomorrow. Bring cash and come alone. No cops, or everyone will know your sick little secret too."

For an instant, fear coursed through her. Then anger took over, and she scrunched the letter into a ball, tossing it across the room and into her bin. Shaking, she sank back onto her pillows, the message burned into her mind. Her worst fears had been come to fruition, and she had no idea what to do.

"Tante Regine was wrong. They did know what they took, and why." She murmured. "But I thought...I didn't think they'd come for me like this. Now what do I do? Pay them off? But what if they ask for more money? What then? How much is it going to cost me to keep this quiet? Dammit, as if I don't already have enough things to spend my money on. And there's noone I can go to. Noone I can tell. Tante Regine is already upset enough - she's been through it this week, with the burglary, and I can't tell her. But..."

She got to her feet, pulling the letter out of the bin again and re-reading it for the final time. Tears of panic flickered in her dark eyes as she took in the stark demand once more, and she leant up against the wall, gripping the sheet tightly in her hand.

"I have to destroy this." She whispered. "Noone must see it. I'm in enough trouble as it is."

She crossed the room in short, sharp strides, pulling the other sheet out from under her pillow. She folded them up, pushing them into her pocket. Her hands felt clammy and damp and she wiped them absently on her jeans, her mind still racing.

"You don't look like you're asleep to me." Stefana's voice came from the doorway, startling the singer half out of her skin. Jerking around, she knocked her nail scissors off the dresser and onto the floor, yelping in pain as they scraped across her toes.

"What the hell are you doing, sneaking up on me!" She exclaimed, dropping to the floor to examine her injuries. "Are you trying to maim me, or are you just spying on me instead?"

"Woah, get a grip." Despite herself, Stefana was taken aback. "We're going out to grab some lunch. Luca sent me up to ask if you were coming...if you weren't asleep. Don't yell at me!"

"Well, I'm fine, so go away." Madeleine snapped, pushing the scissors to one side. Blood began to ooze from her foot onto the worn rug below and she muttered a curse, reaching for the box of tissues that lay inside her cabinet.

"Ew. Maddy, that's gross." Stefana scooped up the tissues, coming to her bandmate's side. "Here. Else you'll get it everywhere."

"Get away from me!" Madeleine grabbed the tissues, pushing Stefana with her free hand so hard that the guitarist almost overbalanced backwards. "You've done enough damage already!"

"Yeesh!" Stefana righted herself, her expression indignant. "I was only trying to help! It wasn't like I made you jump on purpose - you were the one who stabbed yourself, not me!"

"Just get away from me!" Madeleine exclaimed. "I don't need your help! Go to lunch. Get out of my hair. I can manage."

"It's still bleeding." Stefana wrinkled up her nose, as the singer attempted to plug the wound with a folded piece of tissue. "Clay knows first aid - shall I go get him? You're dying your rug red."

"It's ruined anyway." Madeleine said flatly. "And I'm fine. I told you, I can manage. I don't need you or Clay. In case it escaped your notice, he isn't the only one who did a first aid course in college. I know what to do and I don't need any help. Just go away, Steffi."


"Dammit, do you never listen to anyone but yourself?" Madeleine flared up, exasperated. "Read my lips! Go!"

"Fine." Stefana's expression became petulant. "Geez. Someone forgot to take their pills this morning. I'm going. If you're in that mood, we don't want you with us, anyway."

With that she turned on her heel, stalking out onto the landing and banging the door shut behind her. Tears pricked at Madeleine's eyes, but she forced them back, focusing instead on her cut foot. With a dulled sense of relief, she realised the bleeding was slowing and, scrunching the tissue up into a ball, she set it down on the rug, shuffling over to her cabinet as she hunted for a clean plaster. Muttering curses under her breath, she bound up her foot, sitting back to examine the damage to the old blue rug. Several ugly reddish brown stains now marked it's soft pastel colours, and she swore again, shaking her head slowly.

"It's ruined." She murmured. "And Steffi probably isn't speaking to me now, either. Dammit, but she couldn't have come in at me at a worse time."

She cast another glance at her foot, then reached for a clean pair of socks, slipping them on. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the blackmail note once more, dropping it down into the centre of the rug. Then, carefully she folded the worn fabric in half and half again, getting to her feet.

She hesitated for a moment, touching the edge of the fabric, then her resolve hardened. Reaching beneath her bed for an old paper bag, she pushed the parcel inside - rug, paper and tissue all - then dropped it down on her bed. Determination in her expression, she slid her shoes onto her feet, grabbing up the bag once more and pushing open the bedroom door. The house was quiet, and she made her way swiftly downstairs, hurrying out to her car and pulling open the driver's door. Within a few minutes she had put the vehicle in gear, pulling out onto the main road and south towards the big waste disposal complex.

Pulling to a halt not far from the entrance, she stepped out of her car, scooping up the bag and heading decidedly up to the front gate, pushing it open and slipping inside. At the end of the far wall were a group of public disposal boxes, and, without hesitation, she made her way to the very end one, reaching to lift up the flap. She pushed the paper bag through the hole, pausing for a moment before she released it. A soft thudding sound marked its journey down the long winding chute to the incinerator below, and for a moment, regret teased at her heart. She had had the rug a long time.

"But I can't keep it now." She murmured, turning on her heel and walking away before her feelings overwhelmed her. "And I have more to worry about than a stupid stained rug. That letter was clear enough in what it wanted. I guess this time I have no choice. I'll have to get the money, and hope it buys me more than just time."

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

So not everything had changed in a year.

Robin gazed up at the familiar building, taking in the bright red of the roses that curled their way across the timbers. As he did so, happy memories flitted through his head and he gritted his teeth, forcing them away.

"He's crossed the line." He told himself quietly. "No matter what's gone before, I'm not having him upsetting Nancy like that. I won't have her thinking things about my hometown that aren't true, dammit. He better be home. I want to have serious words."


As if sensing his thoughts, the door of the property swung open to reveal a petite woman dressed in lavender overalls, thick brown hair pulled back from her face by a thick blue band. For a moment, Robin was shaken from his purpose, half-imagining he saw his dead wife on the front steps. Then he got a grip on himself.

"Hi, Meg." He said. "I didn't know you were here. I was looking for your Anton home?"

"Yeah. We're fixing up his front room. I was just heading out to get a new paintbrush...his dog's got the last one." The apparition smiled, and in a moment the illusion of Sian was broken. "I'd heard you were back in's been a long time. How come you haven't been calling? Has Charlotte been burying you in party preparations?"

"No...I've been around." Robin offered a smile. "Can I come in?"

"Sure. Not much going on in here." Meg dimpled. "I'll be back in a few - Anton's in the lounge. Get him to pour you coffee - I just made a pot before you appeared. As ever, you know when I'm ready to pour."

"Well, old habits die hard." Robin said ruefully. "Thanks, Meg. It's nice to see you - you'll be at Mom's do?"

"Yes." Meg nodded. "Wouldn't miss it. Not with the prodigal son in town."

She winked at him, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. Then she pushed back the door to let him past, casting him a wave and disappearing in the direction of the main high street.

Robin stepped into the hall, pausing for a moment as nostalgia washed over him. Sian had stood on those stairs, he remembered, gazing up towards the top step. It had been their prom, and they'd gone from Anton's house because her father had been working...Anton's wife had done her hair with flowers in a french braid, and she'd been so beautiful in blue satin...


Anton's voice jerked him from his reverie, and he turned, the memories darting away.

"What are you doing here?" Anton looked confused.

"You wanted to catch up." Robin said quietly. "So here I am. Ready to talk."

"Well, Meg and I are painting up the lounge." Anton shrugged, but led the way into the chaotic front room. "She's just gone in search of a new brush, since Rudy decided to eat the last one. Stupid mutt. He's still as much of a bonehead as ever. I've had to lock him in the back yard to keep him out of it"

"That dog goes on forever." Robin acknowledged. "You had him when I was in grade school."

"Yes." Anton agreed. "He's going on for sixteen this year. But listen to us, babbling about the dog."

He raised a smile.

"Sit down, if you can find somewhere." He offered. "Not much painting is going to happen till Meg gets back, and we haven't really had much time to chat since you got here."

"No. We haven't." Robin agreed, doing as he was bidden. "And it's a shame, because I think we need to."

"Me too." Anton frowned.

"Is Rachel home?"

"No. She's out tutoring this afternoon." Anton shook his head. "Since I lost my job, we've been reliant on her teaching to pay the bills, so she's a lot busier than she was before. It's good though, I suppose. She likes it, and I've been able to work on the garden. Not much going on the job market at the moment - but then, you know that story."

He grimaced, and Robin nodded his head.

"Hence roping in Meg to paint the house?" He asked lightly. Anton nodded.

"She's always been the practical one in the family." He agreed. "And thankfully she works for free."

Robin fell silent, his gaze flitting along the mantlepiece of photographs. There were several of Anton with his wife, and a couple of group pictures of family. His sharp eyes picked out Sian's face from one of them, and he frowned. Anton caught his gaze, and shrugged.

"She was pretty that day." He observed quietly. Robin started, then nodded his head.

"She was always pretty." He acknowledged. "Even when she was knee deep in mud or...or throwing up with the baby. She was still pretty. To me."

"Do you still love her?"

"I'll always love her. She was Sian." Robin spread his hands. "What more is there to say?"

Anton pursed his lips.

"I wondered." He admitted. "You...didn't come back here alone, Rob. You brought a friend with you, and I didn't expect it."

"Nancy isn't a friend." Robin said levelly. "She's my girlfriend. We've been dating a while now."

Anton's lips thinned in disapproval.

"You just said you loved my sister." He objected. "How can you, if you're dating some other girl?"

"Sian's a memory. Nancy's not." Robin said simply. "Listen, Anton, I know you spoke to Nancy the other day. That's sort of why I'm here...I wanted to discuss it with you."

"There's really nothing to discuss." Anton shook his head. "I told her my feelings, and she told me quite bluntly that she didn't care about Sian or that she was dead or any of those things. She's a nasty, shallow creature, Robin, and she's using you for whatever reason. You've been through a lot and it's understandable, but that girl's a..."

"City slut, maybe?" Robin asked levelly. Anton shrugged.

"If you know that, why are you dating her?" He asked. Robin frowned, shaking his head.

"Nancy's not a slut." He said quietly. "And whether she comes from Los Angeles or Little Rock is irrelevant. Yes, I loved Sian and I married her. If she was still alive, I'd still be with her. I'd never even have looked at another girl, and you know that better than anyone. You know what she meant to me. But she's not here now, Anton. This is Carrowville but it's not the place I grew up, not any more. She'll never be there any more...we'll never hang out or kiss or raise our damn baby. That world ended when that bastard Reynolds smashed his car into mine. Sian is dead. And I've moved on."

"She wouldn't have replaced you so easily, you know."

"I'd like to think that she would have." Robin said flatly. "That if it had been me killed in the accident, you'd have let her move on and find someone else to help raise our baby. I wanted it for the longest time, you know - to trade my life for hers. But God didn't play it that way. He kept me here. And dammit, He sure didn't do it so I'd mope and whine my way through my life. I loved her, but loving her without having her made me miserable, Anton. It was driving me crazy. That's why I left Carrowville. It wasn't because I suddenly wanted a job or to travel or got seduced by the bright lights. I needed out. I would have left sooner, but probation didn't allow. I wanted to get away from here. From everything. And start again. Somehow."

Anton was quiet for a moment. Then,

"Sian talked about you as her soulmate." He said at length. "Her one true love - the one she was destined to spend her life with. You could at least have done her the same courtesy."

"Are you suggesting that I didn't really care for your sister?" Robin demanded. Anton shrugged.

"You're the one banging the bitch from the west coast." He said bluntly. "You tell me."

Robin clenched his fists.

"Don't insult Nancy." He said darkly. "She's nothing to do with this. I made the decision to move on, and I'm just as guilty in loving Nancy as she is of loving me. You've no right to insult her just because you don't approve of my choices. She was damn near in tears earlier because of what you said to her. That's not right. Sian wouldn't have wanted that."

"Sian would have wanted to be remembered, at least!" Anton shot back. "Not pushed away to some dark alcove of your brain while you get it from another chick. You know I'm right - you know I've hit a nerve. I wouldn't have thought it of you, Robin - that you'd betray her so quickly and so easily!"

"Well, people said that when I put Calvin Reynolds in the hospital." Robin snapped back. "They said it wasn't like me. That they'd have thought better. I guess I disappoint a lot of people, don't I?"

"Reynolds deserved it, and more. We both know that's why the judge was soft on you." Anton dismissed this with a careless gesture. "He's nothing to do with this. This isn't about him. It's about your loyalty to your dead wife. She was buried with her wedding ring, Robin - tell me, what the hell happened to yours?"

Robin flinched.

"Shut up." He said darkly. "Shut up, or I'll shut you up. I mean it, Anton. I'm not going to be baited. I came here to have a nice, civil conversation with you and to get you to see sense over Nancy. There's no need to stoop that low."

"Isn't there?" Anton shot back. "Where is it, Robin? Did you give it to your bitch in Los Angeles? Tell her it was something else? Or did you toss it away, like you have my sister's memory?"


With a resounding crack, Robin landed a fist on Anton's jaw, sending the man wheeling backwards. Blood spurted from his lip, and the older man let out a curse.

"Dammit, Robin, I thought they dealt with your anger management problems when you were locked up!"

"Guess nobody told you that I refused to speak to their stupid therapists, then." Robin said angrily.

"You want to fight over this?" Anton squared himself, balling his own fists. "Because I'll take you, you know. I used to whip your butt on the football field, trying to kick some school spirit into you. I could take you now, too. You never had much weight behind you, Robin. You're light."

"Let's just remember who put Calvin in the hospital." Robin narrowed his eyes. "Sure you want to take me on?"

"I woulda killed Reynolds if you hadn't got to him first." Anton's eyes flashed fire. "I would've killed any guy that dared hurt my sister, and you know it. You didn't finish the job. I would've."

"Was that a threat?"

"If you want."

"What the hell are you two doing?"

Meg's exclamation broke through the heated words and, as if someone had doused him in cold water, Robin faltered, taking a step back. Before her brother could take advantage, Meg was between them, holding up her hands.

"What's gotten into the pair of you?" She demanded. "You used to be friends - why are you fighting?"

"Ask him." Anton said darkly. "He brought some girl back to Carrowville with him and expects us all to love her and fawn over her when Sian is rotting in her grave."

Robin glanced at his fists, then put his arms down by his side.

"I won't have my girlfriend called a slut." He said flatly. "I wouldn't have taken it for Sian and I won't take it for Nancy. Not even from people I've considered family."

"Sian would never have forgiven either one of you for this, you know." Meg said coldly, casting them both a glare. "She hated fighting and well you both know it, too. And Robin - didn't you learn anything from being locked up? Fighting don't solve anything! Just makes bad feeling, that's all. I won't have it. Not from either of you. Sian would have been shocked and so am I."

Robin bit his lip.

"I'm sorry, Meg." He acknowledged. "But he went below the belt."

"You did that, when you brought that girl to Carrowville." Anton touched his lip with his finger gingerly.

"Anton George, you pipe down." Despite her small stature, Meg's glare was enough to cow her elder brother into submission. "You are not going to use Sian as an excuse for acting like a schoolboy, all right? Robin's been through enough. We all have. If he's found happiness in the city, it ain't for us to tell him if its wrong or right. Leave those things to God and make up, will you both? Else Charlotte's party's going to be a wash. And she doesn't deserve that from either of you."

Anton fell silent. He glared at his foe, who sent him an icy look back.

"I'll be getting out of your house." Robin said coolly. "I'm guessing I'm not gonna be real welcome round here from now on."

With that he turned on his heel, heading out into the hallway.

"Robin?" Meg's voice made him pause at the front door, turning to face her. She sent him a thoughtful glance.

"Sian would forgive you, you know, if you've found someone that means that much to you." She said softly. "But she wouldn't forgive you so easily for punching out her brother. So don't do it again, okay?"

"There'll be no more fighting from me, Meg. You have my word." Robin said quietly. "But I ain't saying another word to Anton until he apologises to Nancy for what he said to her in the park. Whatever his feelings about my situation, he should've taken them up with me direct and not attacked her about them. It's not up to her when I move on or when I don't. Nor is it up to him. It's up to me. Sian would have wanted me to have a life. God knows she would have. It doesn't mean I don't care about her - I don't think I'll ever not care about her. But I have to move on or go mad."

"I know that." Meg nodded. "And so does he, deep down. But losing Sian affected us all, Rob. Not just you. Remember that too, okay?"

Robin paused, digesting this. Then he nodded his head.

"I'll try." He acknowledged. "Just tell Anton to keep out of my hair too. I'm here for my Mom, and I won't have anyone wrecking her birthday bash."

"It'll be okay." Meg nodded her head, and looking at her, Robin recognised the look of steely determination that characteristed the middle Mulhavy child. "I give you my word. I'll see you at the party, Robin. You and this Nancy girl both. There'll be no trouble from any of us. I promise."

Prologue: Flashback: 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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