"It's a nice day today."
Copper settled herself in more comfortably the booth of the restaurant, casting her husband a conspiratorial grin. "And I'm glad you could play hooky for an hour or so to join me out here for lunch. I know that with Syl out of state Jewel's stuff has been at a minimum, but Phyllis seems to have you just as hard to the grindstone as ever at the moment."
"She does." Aaron looked rueful, taking a sip of his drink. "And she doesn't know I've left the building, because she took off for a meeting in San Fran just about an hour ago. Mom doesn't mind me fraternising with my wife, but Aunt Phyl is paranoid that any time spent together in work hours is going to result in an army of little Pelligrinis and more disruptions for her music company. Honestly, I don't think she's got over what Topaz put her through with Hollie yet."
"More likely what she went through herself, having Emily." Copper set down her fork, resting her chin in her hands pensively. "Maybe we should tell her that there's really no risk of that happening. It might make her lighten up, if she knew that I probably can't have kids - or not at the moment. Not till we get down to seeing specialists and all of that stuff."
"I know, but you were the one who didn't want to talk to her about it." Aaron touched his wife's hand gently. "And it's all right, really. I think deep down she knows that we're going to have a proper relationship, like any married couple. There's nothing she can do about it. She just likes to be in charge. That's all. And it doesn't hurt to humour her a little. She does pay our wages."
"So she does, in a manner of speaking." Copper nodded her head. "She just seems to have you and Cynthia especially busy these days."
"For Cyn, I'm glad that she does." Aaron admitted. "The busier she is with other things, the less pensive she is. I know she says she's over Jerrica and all that, but I don't think she's quite as logical about it as she'd like to be. She'd have me believing she's cached it somewhere where it can't get at her, but I don't think it's that simple. Keeping her occupied seems the best cure."
"We just have to give her the time to deal with it." Copper agreed. "It was a big deal breakdown she had, after all."
Aaron glanced at his watch, then rolled his eyes.
"I ought to be heading back." He admitted, leaning across the table to kiss his wife on the nose. "Even Mom won't have patience with our lunch breaks if I'm late back and claiming over my time allowance. Are you staying in the city, or heading home?"
"Home, probably." Copper pursed her lips. "Since I've some free time, I'm going to have a walk round the garden and see where the landscapers need to come in. We keep saying we'll do something to the wilderness out there and it's about time we did, so I might give that some thought. And it's not too blazing hot today, considering it's the end of June. It seems like the perfect time."
"Okay, you do that." Aaron nodded, reaching in his pocket for a handful of bills and tossing them down onto the table. "There, and I'm outta here. I'll see you later - probably around sixish, with any luck. Don't go too mad on the garden plans, okay? We want it to be manageable and I don't want to have to be calling in an army of gardeners to keep it tidy."
"I promise." She agreed. "Simplicity first. And I'll call the guy about de-weeding the pool, too, while I'm at it. Might as well make myself useful, while Jewel are at a loose end."
"Sure." Aaron grinned. "The sooner that's done, the sooner we can relax by our pool instead of gatecrashing the Starlight to do it."
"Right." Copper nodded. "And it'll give us the perfect excuse to hold a pool party."
"Was that your idea, or Syl's?" Aaron raised an eyebrow. Copper laughed.
"Guess." She responded. "But don't worry. It'd be a very private pool party!"
Aaron looked amused.
"Yes, I'm sure." He agreed ruefully. "Okay. This evening, then?"
"Of course." Copper's eyes twinkled. "Take care and don't let work drive you mad!"
"Do my best." Aaron rolled his eyes. "It's not easy when you're trying to install new software for someone who wants the newest and best but hasn't a clue how to use it."
With that he was gone, and Copper chuckled, shaking her head slowly.
"But she does insist on it, he's right." She murmured, reaching for her own purse and counting out enough money to make up her half of the bill. "I guess that's just Phyllis. It's just a pity my husband is the one who'll probably spend till Christmas explaining how it works!"
"That was cosy."
A fresh voice interrupted her thoughts and she turned, seeing Jesta leaning up against the wall, her arms folded across her chest. Consternation flitted into Copper's eyes.
"Jesta?" She exclaimed.
"Well done. Ten out of ten for observation." Jesta said lazily. "Are you busy?"
"I will be." Copper's eyes narrowed. "What do you want?"
"Just to talk to you." Jesta dropped down into Aaron's vacated seat. "Can you manage a grown up discussion, or is that too much to expect from a Jewel?"
"Honey, I manage to run my own home. I can certainly manage a conversation." Copper said acidly. "Though I didn't think talking was entirely your style."
"Good. I'm glad you understand my way of doing things. It saves time." Jesta seemed unperturbed. "Listen. I need a favour from you."
"A favour?" Copper's eyebrows shot up. "Aren't you taking entirely the wrong tack about this? Most people who want favours ask nicely for them. And what makes you think I'd want to help you, anyhow? You like making life difficult for us whenever we set foot on British soil...and you've done a fair bit of mischief here in the USA, too. Why would I want any part in one of your schemes?"
"Woah, backtrack, Jewel." Jesta held up her hands. "This ain't a scheme. It's a research project I'm doing, that's all."
"Research?" Copper's expression could not get any more incredulous, and Jesta laughed.
"Yes, research." She agreed. "Guess it probably didn't occur to you, but I do read. And something I read recently has great interest to me."
"I saw you at the library." Remembrance flashed into Copper's dark eyes. "Nancy and I both did. At the microfilm...what kind of research? And what has this to do with me?"
"Simple." Jesta made herself more comfortable in her seat, reaching into her bag for a pile of papers. "Like I said, you know how I work. I don't mind causing you trouble - no end of it, in fact - if you don't help me out."
"We can deal with your kind of trouble." Copper said darkly. Jesta raised an eyebrow.
"Okay. Let me be a bit more blunt." She said contemplatively. "How does this sound, as the headline in tomorrow's Tribune?"
She gestured. "A Jewel's pain - The truth about Copper's infertility."
"What?" She whispered. "What do you know about that?"
"Oh, I improvise." Jesta shrugged carelessly. "You shouldn't talk about it in such a public place, even with your other half. People can hear you. People like me take note, and then use it against you."
"I would." Jesta smirked. "I don't care what the world knows about you. But if you help me out, I won't do anything about it. Those are my terms. Are you on my wavelength now?"
Copper sighed, rubbing her temples.
"Okay." She said at length. "What kind of help are we talking about?"
"Nothing brain-busting." Jesta held out a sheet of paper. "It's in Spanish. I don't speak a word of it...tell me what it says."
"Tell you what it says?" Copper looked confused.
"Yes, bozo. Translate it for me."
"That's it?" Slowly Copper took the sheet. "That's all you want me to do? Just...translate it into English?"
"Yes. Gee, are you always this dense?"
"Jesta, why didn't you just ask me to?" Copper pursed her lips. "I thought you meant trouble when you dropped in on me, and you wanted me to do something bad. Translating from Spanish - nothing easier. You could have just asked. You didn't need to threaten me with blackmail."
"But that's how I work." Jesta shrugged. She paused, then,
"You'd really just have done it, though? If I'd asked?"
"Damn." Jesta rolled her eyes. "I could have saved that blackmail piece for something bigger."
Despite herself, Copper smiled.
"Maybe you're not so smart as all that." She responded, smoothing the letter out on the table. "Now let's see. It's not so long...I..."
"Hey. Hang on a minute. Jesta, where did you get this?"
"Huh?" Confused by her companion's sudden change of attitude, Jesta looked startled.
"This letter. Where did you get it?"
"That's none of your business. Your job is to tell me what it says."
"What are you playing at?" Anger sparked in Copper's dark eyes and she pushed the sheet away. "This is one of your games, isn't it? Just a silly game to see if you can get at and upset me as much as possible! And for a moment there I thought maybe you were on the level!"
"Hey, back up!" Jesta exclaimed, grabbing up the paper. "Did you forget your medication or something? What gives?"
"I want to know where you got that letter!" Copper's voice shook. "And don't tell me that you don't know what's in it. Of course you do! You've set this all up!"
"Copper, I have no idea what's in the goddamn letter!" Jesta shot back. "It could be a shopping list for all I know. I don't speak a word of Spanish, so quit freaking out at me and just tell me what it says!"
Copper eyed her companion mutinously, and Jesta's eyes narrowed.
"The Tribune." She added. "Tomorrow. Front page."
Copper swore under her breath in Spanish, then snatched the letter out of Jesta's grasp, casting it another glance. She bit her lip, swallowing hard.
"What are you trying to play with me?" She asked softly. "Jesta, where did you get this letter? I mean it."
"I found it."
"That's not your business. Just translate it already, will you?" Jesta was starting to lose her patience.
"It's a...a short note." Copper's voice trembled. "And...and it was written..."
She faltered, shaking her head.
"It was written," She whispered. "By my father."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Silence greeted Copper's remark, as Jesta stared at her with a mixture
of suspicion and incredulity.
"Your Dad?" She echoed. "He wrote that? How can you be so damn sure? The writing is awful!"
"It's his writing." Copper murmured. "I think I'd know. He was my Papa, you know. And that's his signature. I must have seen him scrawl that on a zillion cheques when I was growing up."
"Gee, what it must be to grow up pampered." Jesta rolled her eyes. "So do you know what it says?"
"Are you going to tell me or do I have to play twenty questions?"
"Jesta, what is all this about?" Copper asked softly. "Why do you have something my Papa wrote at all?"
"I..." Jesta faltered, her eyes narrowing as she recognised a figure in the doorway. "Wait. I know that guy...he works for Cool Trash. I've done business with him before."
"So? I thought making scandals was your thing." Copper folded her arms. "Why care if he's here now?"
"I'd rather this wasn't put about. Not till I get to the bottom of it and get what I want." Jesta shook her head. She got to her feet, pulling her jacket off her chair. "We're going back to my hotel room and we'll sort this out there. It's quieter. Less nosy press."
"And what if I don't want to go anywhere with you? I did have things to do today, you know."
"Well, you know what the Tribune will be printing tomorrow morning." Jesta shrugged. "Your call."
Copper sighed, but got reluctantly to her feet.
"Fine." She said at length. "Let's go."
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