What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirty-Two (Part Three)

Danny frowned as he watched Tony disappear down the hallway, particularly when he spotted Eden following in his wake. This was not good, not good at all. He finished his drink and was prepared to follow when he spotted Carlos Riviera moving in their direction. Curious. He didn’t remember mentioning this event to Carlos, and the man certainly wasn’t from Springfield so why would he be in attendance? He leaned down and whispered to Michelle. “Here comes our new business partnership, Carlos Riviera. Not sure why he is here.”

Michelle’s brows furrowed as she pondered the unspoken question in Danny’s statement. “Community outreach perhaps?”

“Hm. Perhaps. Though he doesn’t seem like a community outreach type of guy.” Though he was still suspicious Danny greeted Carlos jovially before making introductions. “Michelle this is our new wine distributor Carlos Riviera. Carlos, this is my wife Michelle.”

When Michelle extended her hand to shake in casual greeting Carlos slipped on what he must have considered his most charming smile. Bringing her hand up his mouth he kissed a brief kiss on her knuckles. “A pleasure to meet you Mrs. Santos.” Carlos turned his attention back to Danny. “You are a very lucky man Mr. Santos.”

Feeling Michelle stiffen beside him Danny instinctively pulled her closer. Clearly she wasn’t comfortable with Carlos’ intense attention, and truthfully neither was Danny. He wasn’t sure why but he suddenly didn’t trust the man as far as he could throw him. Making small talk held little appeal, not with Tony currently who knows where alone with Eden. But it didn’t seem like Carlos was going away anytime soon. “Nice party. Heard some folks talking about how this urban renewal has been a Santos project for a while now.”

Michelle gazed up at her husband admiringly. “Danny and Tony began cleaning up Fifth Street years ago but as they say, life has a way of changing plans.”

That was an understatement. All of what happened back then seemed so unfathomable now. But it was there, hidden deep in Danny’s memory where he was unlikely to recall the stark coldness of that time. Like Michelle’s brain injury and subsequent memory loss. They both had tried to move on in relationships with others, he with Marina and Michelle with who they had thought was Tony. The only bright spot in the whole sordid time was Hope, sweet beautiful Hope. Everything else was best left in the past, locked away so they could focus on what they had in the present and the future. “Tony and I both feel that since our family played a role in driving this part of the neighborhood into ruin that we should play a role in building it back up again. But it took more than us to make this happen.”

Danny noticed that although Carlos seemed to nod in all the appropriate places his attention kept straying to the hallway, where Tony had disappeared with Eden. Curious. He decided to do a little digging. “I was surprised to see you here. Springfield events don’t usually attract attention from those in Bay City.”

Carlos just shrugged as he regarded Danny with his shrewd gaze. “Tony mentioned it when I talked to him the other day. I contribute to a number of civic causes.”

Plausible enough. But the brief flash of anger in Carlos’ eye when Danny had questioned him about his presence hadn’t gone unnoticed. Danny watched as Carlos turned on his chameleon-like charm on the people of Springfield. The man was good, he would give him that. Beside him Michelle whispered, “I don’t like him and I don’t trust him.”

Danny briefly turned his attention toward his wife and when he looked towards the crowd Carlos had simply vanished as if he were never there. Before he could even question where the other man had gone there was a commotion from the hallway Tony had gone down. And just like that Danny knew things had just gotten worse, much worse

***

Tony walked quickly down the hall taking small pleasure in the fact that Eden had to labor to keep up. She had been a thorn in his side since she had revealed herself to him outside of Infierno, making her suffer a bit made him feel a little bit better. Marah must have gotten caught up talking to someone, perhaps her parents or siblings. In this case it was certainly a good thing. If she had spotted Eden all hell would have broken loose and he didn’t want that for her, not on her big night.

Just before the restrooms he spotted an open door and decided it was as good as any for a private discussion. Even before he turned on the lights Tony sensed the room was designated for arts and crafts. The distinctive scent of paint was in the air, a scent that had nothing to do with the fresh coat of glossy white on the walls. This was a scent that reminded him of Marah. Of waking up early on Sunday mornings and finding her outside on their patio painting the sun just as it broke through the trees. The thought made him smile. God he loved that woman. Which made him even more determined to rid them of Eden once and for all. He flipped on the light and confirmed his suspicion. It was an artist paradise. Marah had surely had her hand in the planning of this room.

Tony leaned against a table and faced Eden and began clapping. “Got to hand it to you Eden, you sure know how to ruin someone’s life. The photos were a nice touch. But we both know I wasn’t an active participant in that hotel room.” All serious now Tony pinned her with his harsh gaze. “So now that you have once again disrupted my life what is it going to cost me to get you out of it? No games this time.”

Eden threw her head back and laughed. “Precious Marah didn’t enjoy my present? Too bad. And how do you know you didn’t participate Tony? You can’t even remember that day at Towers. The passion that flared between us.”

He had been barely listening to her, but his ears perked up at something she had let slip. He regarded her shrewdly, cautious not to not overplay his hand. “How do you know that Eden?”

“Know what?”

“Know that I don’t remember that day.” Michelle’s theory about Eden drugging him was starting to look even better.

For a moment Eden looked mildly panicked but she quickly recovered as she shrugged her shoulders. “You know how people talk in this town. Word gets around.” Seeing movement of the corner of her eye Eden smiled and moved towards Tony seductively. “But enough about that. Let’s talk about us.”

Wait what? Tony was instantly confused. “Us?”

“Yes us. As in you and me. I think it is time we stop fighting the inevitable.”

Warning bells began going off in Tony’s head. It was clear Eden had no plans to leave, not without getting what she wanted. And what she wanted was him. “Eden there is no us.”

Speaking softly Eden whispered, “There could be. You just need to stop fighting it. You never could see that I was perfect for you in all the ways Marah will never be.” Before he could react Eden threw her arms around his neck and sealed their lips together in a bruising kiss.

That got a reaction! Tony instantly brought his hands up and pushed against her shoulders, extracting his lips from hers. But before he vent his outrage he saw his life effectively shatter in an instant. There, in the doorway, stood Marah.

“Don’t let me interrupt. I just wanted to let you know that you should sleep at the Beacon tonight. Or at Infierno. Or at the freaking bus station for all I care. As long as it is nowhere near me.” Inside Marah gave herself a mental pat on the back. She had sounded strong when all she wanted to do was crawl in a corner and weep. Instead she turned and headed down the hall.

“Marah!”

Tony was close on her heels. Reaching out he clasped her hand pulling her to a stop. But Marah was not in the mood. Instead she wheeled around and releasing all the hurt and anger inside her slapped him across his cheek. Wrenching her arm away from his hand she seethed. “Don’t touch me!”

Carlos Riviera was suddenly there, concern in his eyes. “Is everything all right.”

“No. Everything is not all right.” Marah reached inside her small handbag for her cell phone. “I am calling a cab and going home.”

“Marah don’t do this.” Tony reached out towards her, his tone pleading. But while Marah gave him a quick look he doubted she really saw him. “Tony you still have her damn lipstick all over you.”

Carlos looked awkward, like he wanted to be anywhere but in the middle of a marital argument. But he placed a hand on Marah’s shoulder. “I could drive you home if you like Mrs. Santos. “

Marah looked at the man and while she hesitated she finally nodded. “Thank you.” Without sparing Tony a second look she continued down the hall and then she was gone.

Carlos gave Tony a reassuring look. “I will make sure she gets home all right.”

But Tony wasn’t reassured. Not in the least.

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