"So, that's basically how it is."
Jesta dropped down onto her bed, twisting the cord of the phone around her finger idly as she did so. "I don't know, Sam. It's just my goddamn luck that the guy's pushing up daisies before I can get to grips with him. I've found out he married, and has kids, but God knows where to find them. America's too big."
"Maybe you should ask Whatson for help, seeing as he's funding you being out there." Sammi's voice came back down the line. Jesta snorted.
"Whatson thinks I'm here doing research on things to do a song in Spanish." She muttered.
"Does he know you don't speak a word of it?"
"Would it matter if he did? You know what he's like." Jesta snapped back. "So how's all the wedding sappiness in New York?"
"Oh, let's see." Sammi let out a sigh. "Firstly, my flight was also that bitch cousin's flight. She shoves in my face at the airport how she's taking some guy - who's probably braindead, but I haven't had the misfortune to meet him yet. Then when we get to New York, I know she had something to do with the fact I got stranded at the airport. She knew I was on the plane, and I saw her and Aunt Mary leaving the arrivals gate as I came through from baggage claim. I spent yesterday with Aunt Mary, and she said she didn't know I was there. I believe her. I think that Sylvie really doesn't want me at the wedding, and I'm beginning to think I shouldn't bother."
"I told you that, remember? Weddings are a bore."
"I know, but I spoke to Anna on the phone this morning and we're having lunch. I can't really let her down." Sammi groaned. "She's not the bitch her sister is and it's not her fault her twin is such a brat. I won't ruin her wedding so I'm gonna swallow it and not say anything. But seriously, I can't wait to be back in LA. At least Mum and Dad will be here by the end of the week. I feel a little outnumbered here at the moment."
"Well, rather you than me." Jesta observed lazily. "Go have fun on your little lunch date, huh?"
"Hopefully. At least I know one cousin wants me in New York." Sammi sighed. "Later, Jess. I hope you have better luck with your search."
"Me too." Jesta agreed. "Hey, Sam, hang on a moment. Didn't your Mum play with the Holograms? I..."
She trailed off, realising that her friend had already rung off, and she muttered a curse, dropping the receiver back down onto the phone.
"I need to know something about Raya Alonso." She murmured with a grimace. "But it looks like I'm on my own again. Well, nothing new about that, is there?"
She reached across her bed, grabbing the box from her bedside cabinet and tipping the pile of letters out onto her duvet. Spreading them out in front of her, she selected one, carefully re-opening the envelope and pulling the sheet of paper out.
It was written in Spanish, in a gently flamboyant script, and with an unintelligible signature at the bottom. She would have disregarded it in an instant, for it was not addressed to her mother, and, she had assumed, had probably got in with those papers by accident. But once she had found her father's obituary, her curiosity in the letter had been re-awakened. Slowly she ran her finger over the name the letter had been written to.
"Carmen." She murmured. "His wife. His widow. The woman who's gonna make me rich - if only I can track her down! I know she's not in Los Angeles...which is dumb, because isn't that where movie stars live? But then her website says she likes to keep her private life private and only generate media attention for her films and her public appearances. That helps so much. And what in hell was Mum doing with a letter to my Dad's wife?"
She tossed it aside, brushing the mess of letters into one big pile. As she did so, a sheet of paper that had got stuck to the bottom of one of the envelopes came free and she scooped it up, unfolding it and reading it through with growing curiosity.
"Nat." She read aloud. "You were right. Carmen did take that flight, and I got a good look through her hand luggage while she was sleeping. Thought this might be of interest. Remember, you didn't get it from me - if the airline knew I'd lose my job. Don't forget you owe me big time - when you cash in, you know where to find me.
Her eyes widened, and the sheet of paper slid from her hands.
"So Mum wanted to cash in on him too, huh?" She said bitterly. "What a surprise. Another millionaire with his bastard baby and he doesn't give a damn. I wonder what's in this letter - what's so important about it that this Alixe woman sent it on to Mum. It must've been a big risk - we must be talking a lot of money here."
She got to her feet, retrieving the Spanish letter and folding it in half, sliding it into her pocket.
"All I need now is someone who can tell me what this says." She decided. "That's got to be a step in the right direction. If nothing else, it might give me a clue where to find Carmen Santiago...and how to put the squeeze on her financially. From all the money she gives to good causes, she's bound to be persuaded that her husband's illegitimate daughter is a worthy investment."
She left her room, locking the door firmly behind her and heading out onto the front forecourt, climbing into the front seat of her hire car and putting it into gear. Flipping on the radio, she turned over in her mind all that she'd learnt.
"But it still leads me to a dead end." She realised with a sigh. "Whatever's in that letter, I can't read a word of it. I don't even know who it's from - just that whoever sent it sent it to Dad's wife and some woman called Alixe - sounds like a work friend - stole it for Mum. It's not even a long letter - why bother? It has to be the key...why the hell does it have to be in Spanish?"
She flicked on her indicator, pulling into the main road. "Why is it the breaks never go my way?"
As she headed into the centre of the city, an all too familiar song began to play on the radio and she muttered a curse, reaching over to flip the dial. Then she paused.
"Jewel..." She murmured. "Dolorida is in Spanish and English. That's got to be something right there. Someone in that goody goody band must know how to read this language. I just have to work out which one."
She let out a low chuckle.
"Wait. Talk about a no-brainer - Jesta, stop being so slow. You know which one. There was a hell of a lot of Jewel hype when this song came out, it was all over the internet that there was something going down with who was singing it. I remember now. Copper. There was all that fuss when she whined in live interviews about hating singing in public...what a wimp. But she sang Dolorida...and I bet she'd know what my letter said. All I have to do now...is find out a way to persuade her to help me."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"So this is the place, huh?"
Logan stared up at the church, an amused smile on his face. "How do you find an old gothic church in down town New York, Syl? Your sister must've spent forever hunting this place down."
"I dunno...it's kinda creepy to me too." Sylva admitted. "But Annie always did like old stuff. And it is her wedding."
She shivered. "It's cold inside. I hope they put the heating on when the ceremony's actually on. I know this is a rehearsal and it's all about saving costs but I'm freezing."
"You seem a bit preoccupied, actually." Logan observed, slipping a lazy arm around her shoulders. "Here, to keep you warm. Is something bothering you?"
"Yes." Sylva sighed. "Anna and John, in a nutshell."
She jerked her head towards where the young couple were conferring with the minister. "I'm not sure they've made up that fight yet. They've been very...weird with each other, to be honest."
"Well, you said it was a big one." Logan pursed his lips. "I see your point though. There's enough air between them to send up an air balloon."
"Tell me about it." Sylva rolled her eyes. "That's why I wanted to go to dinner so urgently the other night. Seriously, there's only so much of the polite post-fight talk I can take."
"Maybe they are both just wound up." Logan shrugged his shoulders. "Speaking of your sister, by the way, you haven't formally introduced me yet. I only know who she is because she looks kinda like the girl I'm draped all over."
"Oh." Sylva looked sheepish. "You know, you're right. I've dragged you all the way here to a wedding and you haven't even met the bride and groom properly. Come on...no time like the present. Besides, it might give them something new to think of."
She cast Logan a grin, leading him across the chilly church to where Anna and John were standing.
"Annie? John?" She called. "Are you busy or can I talk to you guys for a minute? I wanted to introduce you to Logan."
"Never too busy for my future sister-in-law, Sylvie." John cast her a smile, and Sylva thought she saw a flash of relief cross his expression. "Are we, Ann?"
"Not at all." Anna spoke composedly. She cast Logan an interested look. "Hi."
"Hi." Logan grinned back. "Pleased to meet Syl's clone at long last."
"Logan!" Sylva rolled her eyes. "Stop messing around. This is serious. Anna, John, this is Logan Matthews - my date for the wedding. Logan, now you've met my sister and her fiance John - please play nice."
Despite himself, John grinned.
"Glad to meet you." He said warmly. Logan spread his hands.
"Guess I'll give you my congratulations right now." he offered. "This place is certainly not what I imagined when Syl told me it was a church wedding in the city. It's very..."
"Gothic? Old?" Anna suggested. She nodded. "I think it's so beautiful. I stumbled over it when I was doing some work for a group just three blocks from here and I drove past it every day for three weeks. I guess I just fell in love with it. It seemed like the perfect place to get married."
She shot an uninterpretable look at her fiance, then, "Thankfully John liked it as much as I did when he saw it. So here we are."
"Is everyone going to fit inside?" Sylva wondered. "How many people are coming?"
"Not too many. It's not a huge wedding." John responded. "My family, yours, of course...and friends from work and college. Maybe about a hundred guests at the outside...we're pretty sure we can accomodate them here, and then it's back to the hotel for the reception. We're using the place Mary's staying for that - it has a huge functions suite and that was my choice."
"Is Aunt Roxy coming?"
"No...she's not." Anna shook her head. "She did phone me to wish me luck, but she said she wasn't going near anything that involved veils and confetti, so I guess she'll have to be here in spirit."
She shot Sylva a rueful look.
"She'd probably do it if it was your wedding, but Aunt Roxy and I were never so close as you were to her. It's fine. We've not had trouble filling seats as it is, and I know the catering would be over budget if she dropped by."
"True enough." She acknowledged. "Aunt Roxy always does seem to be preparing for a great famine when she visits."
"It sounds all organised." Logan grinned. "What about today? I mean, I'm here simply to escort the maid of honour, but surely not all a hundred people are gonna descend on us here?"
"No." Anna shook her head. "Aunt Aja and Uncle Craig are flying out today as it is, so they won't be here. Mom and Dad are both coming." She cast Sylva an apprehensive look at this. "I hope not together. And John's Mom is...his Dad has to work. I don't know who else is, apart from Brian - he's John's best friend and best man."
"No other bridesmaids?"
"Unofficially, Gaynor and Sammi." Anna agreed. "But trying to formalise it with gowns and everything was a bit of a problem because of time and distance. So...we're doing it that way. Gaynor is here in NY, but she's meeting Aunt Aja at the airport so she won't be at the rehearsal."
"Isn't Sammi doing that?" Sylva looked startled.
"No...Sammi's coming here." Anna shook her head. "I asked her to."
"Mom thought she seemed bummed about something, and wanted me to involve her in this too." She added. "She's had a rough patch with the drinking and then the band chaos. I hoped this would be fun for her."
"Oh yes. Really fun." Sylva grimaced.
"Syl, you and Sammi aren't fighting again?" Anna opened her eyes wide. Sylva shrugged.
"Not at your wedding." She promised. "But we're not the best of friends."
"Well, how're my girls this morning?" Before Anna could make any kind of response, Elliot entered the church, making a bee-line for his twin daughters. "Anna, this place is amazing. I had no idea there was somewhere so beautiful in among all the apartment buildings."
"Me either, till I drove past it." Anna dimpled. "Hi, Dad. Thanks for being in good time."
"I have to give my girl away. I need all the practice I can get." Elliot winked at her. He turned to Sylva. "Morning, Sylvie. And this must be the Logan I've heard about?"
Sylva blushed, nodding, and Logan extended a hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr Martescu." He said amiably. Elliot took the proffered hand, shaking it firmly.
"Likewise." He agreed. "It takes a brave man to take on my oldest child."
"Daddy!" Sylva was scandalised, and Logan laughed.
"I'm not known for my common sense." He responded, amused. "But I've no complaints."
"And here's Mom." Anna raised her hand in a wave. "Good. I must make sure she's got the rings...it's about time we gave those over to Brian."
She hurried across the church to her mother's side, and John rolled his eyes.
"Two days to go and I feel like there's a thousand things we haven't done." He said with feeling. Elliot laughed.
"I think it's always that way." He acknowledged. "But they tend to iron themselves out by the time you get to the big day."
"I'm gonna take a walk around, admire the church." Logan cast Sylva a glance. "Do you mind?"
"No, go ahead." Sylva dimpled. "You don't have to be glued to my side, you know."
"Hey, you're the boss." Logan winked at her. "See you in a few."
"He seems like a nice guy, Sylvie." Elliot remarked, once they were alone. "He reminds me of someone else, too."
"He does?" Sylva stared. "Who?"
"You, on first impressions." Elliot laughed. Sylva flushed red.
"Yes. But I don't think it's a bad thing." Elliot assured her. "It might even mean he can keep up with you."
"Dad." Sylva poked out her tongue. "Don't embarrass me!"
Meanwhile, across the church, Logan
had made it as far as the church's pipe organ before being accosted by a
stranger. She cast him a curious smile, leaning up against one of the big
"Hi." She said conversationally, in tones that revealed her foreign birth. "I don't believe we've met."
"No, I don't believe we have." Logan returned the smile with a friendly one of his own. "But I'm finding that's rather a trend today. I'm meeting lots of new people."
"Are you John's family?"
"No...no. I'm here with Anna's sister." Logan shook his head. The girl's eyes opened wide, and a spark of mischief entered her expression.
"Oh, really?" She asked softly. "That's interesting. I didn't realise Sylvie was bringing someone with her. Last I heard she was very much into playing the field...but then, I don't see that much of her."
"Well, I'm here, so I guess she's not playing anything at the moment." Logan laughed. He cast the girl a glance, then, "What about you? Which family do you belong to?"
"Bride's." The girl smoothly offered him her hand, and Logan took it, kissing it mock-politely. "So, do you have a name?"
"Logan." Logan responded. "You?"
"Samantha." Sammi dimpled. "Anna's my first cousin. I guess you could say I'm almost a bridesmaid."
"You're Sammi, huh?" Logan looked interested. "I've heard of you."
"That mightn't be a good thing." Sammi pursed her lips. "Sylvie's a great musician and all, you know, but she's always been jealous of me. It goes back a long way...and she's never been able to resist getting at me in some way. I thought it was getting better, but after she ditched me at the airport here I guess not. I just hope it's not going to wreck Anna's wedding. She's always been a bit...well...blind to other people."
"Ditched you at the airport?" He repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Didn't she tell you?" Sammi looked startled. "I took the same flight as she did - and so, I suppose, as you did. Aunt Mary was meant to pick us both up at the airport...but Sylvie told her that I didn't get the same plane. I spent two hours waiting in vain for a taxi to my hotel and in the end I called Gaynor and she came and rescued me. I wasn't sure about coming here today, to be honest - I did want to go to the airport and get my folks - but Anna insisted I did. And I don't want to let the bride down."
"I'm sorry. I'm not meaning to sound bitchy about Sylvie, and especially not today." She said with a weary sigh. "I just...sometimes she does things that make me angry, and I don't understand why. Someone stole her car not so long ago and she jumped in and accused me of doing it, even though I spent the whole evening at home with a friend. It sucks."
She offered a sheepish smile.
"But I guess I'm not helping, putting you in the middle." She added. "So I apologise. It was nice to meet you, Logan."
"Likewise." Logan agreed.
"Logan, since when is talking to her taking a look around the church?" At that moment Sylva herself descended on them, casting her cousin a look of poison and slipping her arm into Logan's. "She's nothing but trouble, and you don't need to be introduced to her."
"I've already introduced myself, Sylvie." Sammi told her calmly. "You should take better care of your dates, if you don't want them to stray."
"Bye, Logan." She said sweetly. "It was nice to meet you."
Sylva watched her cousin's retreating figure with a scowl.
"I swear sometimes I want to rip her throat out." She muttered. Logan raised an eyebrow.
"Syl, tell me something." He said slowly. "Did we really ditch Sammi at the airport?"
"Did she tell you that?"
"Yes. Did we?"
"No." Sylva rubbed her temples. "You and Mom didn't. I did. That's what you really mean, isn't it?"
"Why?" Logan's eyes widened. "I thought she was the bad guy, but having just met her, I'm thinking it's a little more two way. No wonder Anna thought she was bummed about something! Syl, you said that this wasn't going to spread into Anna's wedding. What did you do that for?"
"I know. It was stupid and I shouldn't have, but I didn't want her in the car with you and me and Mom." She admitted, a guilty look touching her blue eyes. "I was worried about you and me...about our little, well, agreement and her seeing through it. And Mom...I don't like sharing her with Mom. Not even after all these years."
She closed her eyes, leaning up against her companion. "I know it was childish. But I couldn't help it."
"Well, you told Anna that there'd be no fighting between you at this wedding." Logan said quietly. "And that you can't undo, but make sure there's no more of it, huh? I thought you were a bigger person now. Don't prove me wrong."
"Did you like Sammi?" Sylva was alarmed, and she grabbed Logan by the wrists, meeting his gaze with an anxious one of her own. "You were flirting...weren't you?"
"I'm a free agent to flirt, Syl. You know that."
"But it ruins everything if you do that!"
"Listen to me a moment." He said softly. "I came here because I wanted to help someone I care about. I don't know Sammi. My impressions of her are simply this - she's not all the bad side and therefore you're not all the good. But that's just how people are, and your feud is your business. Yes, she's a damn fine girl, your cousin. She's damn pretty. But she's still just a brief acquaintance. And I know why I'm here...so you needn't worry on that score."
He touched her cheek gently.
"I just think you need telling that getting one up on your cousin isn't important." He added. "Now, I think they're getting ready to begin the rehearsal, so play nice, huh? After all, your sister is counting on you!"
Prologue: April 1st,
Chapter One: Sylva's Request
Chapter Two: Samantha...and Jesta
Chapter Three: Flashback - Junior High
Chapter Four: In The Big Apple
Chapter Five: Flashback - Sammi's Eighth Birthday
Chapter Six: Flight
Chapter Seven: Anna
Chapter Eight: Flashback - The Martescu Home
Chapter Nine: Old Wounds
Chapter Ten: Jesta's Clue
Chapter Eleven: In Translation
Chapter Twelve: Flashback - Thick As Blood
Chapter Thirteen: A Friend In Need
Chapter Fourteen: Anna's Secret
Chapter Fifteen: Wedding Day
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback - First Kiss
Chapter Seventeen: Crossing The Line
Chapter Eighteen: Colin
Chapter Nineteen: Settling Up