Some callers were pushy, others respectful. The magazines, though, were the worst. The bitch who called from Star actually implied that unless he agreed to give them an exclusive interview, they were planning to run a story about Matt and Sofia having met up for “trysts” on the days she’d been allowed out of the hospital. “Your wife would be shocked to read the stuff our sources have told us,” the reporter had the gall to say. “This is your chance to set the record straight.”
When Matt told her where she could stick her sources, the woman was as good as her word and ran the story anyway, a preposterous hodgepodge of grainy, blatantly Photoshopped pictures and conspiracy-theory nonsense. It was the biggest-selling issue of Star that year.
Cassie was furious. “Sue them! Sue them for libel. Force them to print a retraction.”
But Matt had persuaded her that engaging with tabloid morons would only add more fuel to the fire. That eventually, if they continued to maintain a dignified silence, the story would fizzle and die. And he was right. Two Altacito guards lost their jobs and the hospital’s director was forced to resign. With public lust for vengeance at least partially satisfied, and no more salacious revelations forthcoming, the calls finally stopped. But not before Cassie Daley had developed a powerful aversion to the sound of ringing phones.
The message light was flashing. Hitting play, Cassie smiled when she heard Matt’s voice.
“Hi, honey. It’s only me. Listen, something came up with this Vanity Fair thing. I…I have to go meet someone. Anyway, I might be late tonight, so don’t worry and don’t cook for me. Okay, see you later.”
He’s a terrible liar, she thought lovingly. She wondered what surprise he was planning this time, what secret it was that he didn’t want her to know. Probably something for the baby. Or earrings to go with the necklace he got me last week. Or maybe he’s finally booked that trip we’ve been planning, our “babymoon.” Always generous, Matt had gone into gift-giving overdrive since Cassie became pregnant. He’d even started spoiling Brandon with a cell phone (at nine!) and a cool new thousand-dollar diving watch.
I’ll talk to him when he gets home. He has to stop with the spending. The baby is blessing enough.
MATT CLOSED THE DOOR BEHIND THEM, his hand shaking. The hotel was expensive, exclusive and discreet, just the sort of place where rich men brought their mistresses.
Is that what I am? A rich man with a hard-on?
Sofia Basta sat down on the bed. There was so much to say, to explain. She’d run through this scene a thousand times in her mind, but now that she was actually here, she had no idea where to begin.
“I know you’re married now,” she said hesitantly. “I haven’t come to spoil anything for you. To ruin your life again.”
“You never ruined my life,” said Matt. “I did that all by myself.”
“But I had to see you, to explain. You’re the only person I can trust and I needed you…I needed you to know…” She started to cry. “I couldn’t stay in that place. I couldn’t. They were burying me alive!”
“Shhhhh.” Matt sat down beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay.” She looked so different. The surgery to her face was radical this time. But holding her felt the same. A wave of longing almost drowned him. He tried to think about Cassie, to picture her face, but her image too was swept away in the flood of desire.
“I got a new passport, a new ID,” she murmured through her sobs. “I changed my name…obviously. Here.” Fumbling in her purse by the side of the bed, she handed Matt a California driver’s license. There were the same, haunting liquid-brown eyes gazing into his. The name underneath the picture read…Lisa Daley.
“I hope you’re not angry with me. It felt right.”
Dropping the license, Matt pushed her back onto the bed, kissing her with so much force she could barely breathe. She felt the weight of him, the power, the passion. Desperately he tore at her clothes and ripped off his own, biting and clawing at her like a man possessed. Finally naked, he plunged inside her with a scream that was half agony, half ecstasy. “Lisa!” This wasn’t lovemaking. This was a man fighting for his life. He was consuming her, inhaling her, breathing her in like a half-drowned man finally breaking through to the surface and desperately gasping for air. It wasn’t just Lisa who had come back from the dead. It was the old Matt Daley, the man Matt thought he had destroyed at Wildwood and buried on his wedding day.
“Matt!” She wrapped her legs around him, clasping his face in her hands, trying to hold him at bay, to calm him. She was the comforter now, rocking him like a baby, soothing him with the warmth and wetness of her body, drawing him in. “I love you! I’m sorry. I love you so much.” Matt reached orgasm, grasping her hips and thrusting so deep inside her that she felt like he might pass right through her body and out the other side, as if she really were a ghost. But the sweat and heat and tears were no shadows. This was real, this joining of the flesh. An agonized celebration of life, like childbirth. Afterward Matt cried like a baby.
“Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me, Lisa, please! I’ll do anything.”
And she knew he meant it.
THEY MADE LOVE AGAIN, FOR SEVERAL more hours, then slept until dusk. When they awoke, Matt ordered room service—two deluxe cheeseburgers and fries—and they ate till their bellies hurt. Finally, at around seven, Lisa started talking. She told him about her illness. How after many years she finally seemed to have broken free of its shadow and was off her medication.
“I was scared at first, going off the pills. But taking them made me feel like I was in a fog. Now, for the first time I can remember really, I feel like myself.”
She told him how a “sweet man” named Carlos Hernandez, one of the psychiatric nurses, had helped stage her “accident,” rigging up a simple animal trap in the mountains to make it look as if she’d slipped into the crevasse, while in fact she was concealed in a cave just a few feet below the mouth of the ravine. Given that the only witness to her fall was an impressionable girl of nineteen who was being treated for, among other things, acute hallucinations, it was easy for Carlos to steer the rest of the group back to camp, buying Lisa enough time to climb out of the cave and make her way down to a remote hunting lodge Carlos had prepared for her.
“Were you lovers?” Matt was ashamed to hear himself asking.
“Nooooo.” Lisa frowned. “I think he would have liked to be. But no. He was my friend. He risked his own neck helping me and he lost his job, poor man. But he knew that I was well again, mentally, and that they would never in a million years have let me out. Especially after Frankie…you know. They needed one scapegoat to punish for all those poor men who died. I was it.”
“But you lived with Carlos?”
She shook her head again. “No. That would have been too dangerous. He paid for me to go to South America for the surgery. It’s funny how easy it is to sneak over the border when you’re coming from the U.S. I was in Brazil for eight months, recuperating and then working. By the time I got back, Carlos had moved on.”
“So you came back to California to be with him?”
Lisa laughed. “My God, Matt. What is it with the jealousy? Yes, I came back for him. To pay him back the money I owed him and to say thank you. But I also knew I had to see you. It was a risk, a big risk. But like I say, I needed you to know.”
“So now I know.”
Matt stood up and walked to the window. The L.A. cityscape, so familiar to him all his life, looked strange and somehow menacing tonight, as if he’d never seen it before.
Just a few miles away, in a safe, happy place, Cassie was waiting for him. Cassie and Brandon and their baby. Waiting. Trusting. Dear, sweet Cassie.
“You’re thinking about your wife?”
Matt nodded. “She’s pregnant.” The words were out of his mouth before he knew he was going to say them.
“Oh!” Pain flashed across Lisa’s face. She hadn’t felt guilty about being with Matt today. What happened, she felt sure, had been meant to happen. The love between them, the bond, was too precious not to honor. And she’d been without him for so, so long—didn’t she deserve this, this one fleeting moment of true happiness?