Betrayal in Bloom
Still May, about a week later. Dora’s House. Los Angeles, California.
Aurora hated guilt. It was one of those emotions that she could live without. But tonight, the emotion was a part of her punishment, which was still in the process of being handed down. If anyone had asked her, she would have admitted that the guilt was punishment enough.
She sat at her desk in her room at Aunt Dora’s house. She, Gus, and Ariel were in Los Angeles now. She didn’t know where her brother or sister was, but she knew that Aunt Dora was with them. Keira and Penny were probably with her father in another room, trying to calm him down. Aurora hoped they succeeded.
It was then she thought of her mother, wishing she was here. Her mother would probably gather her up in her arms and tell her things would be alright. Her mother would wipe away tears and make things better with her father. And perhaps this mess would have been avoided altogether.
Aurora sighed, folded her arms together on the desktop, and rested her head on her arms. Eyes heavy with fatigue and misery, Aurora drifted off into a light sleep, and her mind was wonderfully blank of the memories of the last seven days. A small mercy.
* * *
A few days before. The Bloom House. London.
Gus had this thing about cranberry apple juice. Nana Rosalind tried and tried to get him to drink milk, water, or orange juice, but Gus always settled for cranberry apple juice. It was his favoritest drink in the world.
The clock on his nightstand read three thirty-six when he slid from his bed. After emptying his bladder in the nearest bathroom, he padded down to the kitchen for a hit of his favorite juice. Since he couldn’t take it up to his room and risk detection, he drank while sitting on a stool.
At that moment, his ears perked up. It sounded like someone was up and walking around. Was there someone else awake? As far as he knew, Nana Rosalind was still in bed, his father was out on a late date, and Aurora and her three friends were camping out in the living room. So what was that noise? And who made it?
Gus dutifully placed the empty glass in the dishwasher and tiptoed to the living room to check on Aurora and her friends. He spied his twin sister’s dark hair spilled across a pillow, recognized Lana’s and Bridget’s heads. But one of the sleeping bags was empty.
Frowning, Gus left the living room and went toward the downstairs bathroom. He peeked inside and found the toilet sitting there in the dark, unoccupied. Curiosity piqued, Gus ascended the stairs, intending to look in the other bathroom. Maybe she was there.
A door opened down the hall, and Gus quickly flattened himself against the wall around the corner to avoid detection. Prepared for Nana Rosalind’s fussing, Gus was shocked when a little blonde—Aurora’s missing friend—came walking past him stealthily. She glanced around as if she, too, was avoiding detection. Gus started to wonder why when she shifted.
She was holding three red leather-bound books. Something about those books and the fact that she had them made Gus uneasy, but he couldn’t pinpoint why. However, he intended to find out.
Gus emerged from his hiding place, ready to go down the stairs after her and ask her where those books came from when a hand fell on his shoulder.
He did what any startled kid would do. He yelped—loudly.
Rosalind, clad in a belted robe and slippers, hastily shushed him. “Shh! Hush, now. You’ll wake up your sister and her friends.” She led him back to his own bedroom. “Let’s get you back in bed. You’ve got a busy week ahead of you. You’ll need some rest.”
Gus started to protest, but thought better of it. As Rosalind tucked him back in, he thought he should tell her about Aurora’s wandering friend. But Rosalind told him good night and banished his hopes of telling her about it.
* * *
May 16, a couple of days later. Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Beverly Hills, California.
“So tell me about this girl you’ve been seeing,” Keira said.
It was before the press conference for the third Pirates, and Orlando was a little tired. He had stayed up too late with the twins and Ariel and seemed to be paying for it now. He had listened to Gus’s excitement over playing Hamlet and wondered if his son was to follow in his footsteps. The thought filled him with a mix of pride and trepidation. There were upsides and downsides to what he did, and if Gus intended to be an actor he needed to know about them. Perhaps it was time to talk to him about it.
But back to the situation at hand. He looked at Keira, whose brown eyes were alive with curiosity.
“Girl?” Orlando faked innocence. “Why, love, whatever do you mean?”
Keira rolled those eyes of hers. “Very funny.” She shoved him playfully. “Stop playing coy. I know you, Bloom. You’ve been with a woman since I last saw you.”
Orlando’s eyebrows arched. “I have not been with a woman—”
“Not like that, you wanker,” Keira interrupted. “I mean, out on a date.” She looked at him speculatively. “So who was the lady? Are you going to tell me about her?”
With a sigh, he told her about Jacqueline. As usual, she listened, cracked jokes. He began to feel, as he talked with Keira, less guilty for dating Jacqueline. She was the first woman he had seen more than once since Della died. That had given him some moments, but working it out with another living, breathing specimen (and a good friend to boot) was a sort of therapy. Before he knew it, it was time for the press conference to begin.
The cast fielded questions about the movie. Orlando found himself engrossed in the process of talking about working with his co-stars and about the character he played in the movie. So engrossed, it seemed, that he didn’t see the question about his late wife coming.
He would never forget the dark-blond-haired reporter even if he lived to be a hundred. He’d seen that predatory look in her eye, and somewhere inside, he knew. But the conscious part of him was in denial. No one had asked him about Della at one of these press conferences—ever. Audrey made sure that would never happen.
However, even the great Audrey Larkin couldn’t have stopped this.
She’d raised her hand, ink pen sticking up like an antenna. Orlando noticed her and looked to her, eyebrows raised. His cast mates turned to her, waiting for the question.
“I was just wondering,” the reporter started, “how your children feel about the movie. Are they excited about the premiere?”
His children. Safe territory. Orlando was more than happy to talk about them—more than he would have liked talking about Della. She was still a touchy subject for him as far as the media was concerned.
“They are very excited,” Orlando told her. “They can’t wait to see the movie. My son actually asked me the other day if he could have swordfighting lessons.”
“Let the boy have them,” Johnny quipped from Orlando’s left side. “Or are you afraid he’ll probably beat you after the first lesson?”
Everyone laughed, but the reporter merely smiled. It was not a nice smile. That should have been another clue, right there, that something was amiss. As Gus was fond of saying these days, there was something rotten in the state of Denmark. Or in Beverly Hills, California.
She delivered the killing blow with her next question. “Is it true that your daughter Aurora has a crush on Johnny Depp—much like her mother Della did?”
Orlando’s jovial expression faded, from eyes to mouth. Beside him, Keira felt him stiffen, and dread pooled in her belly. With effort, he fought to bring back the smile, but it didn’t meet his eyes. When he spoke, there were signs of strain in his voice.
“Yes, my daughter Aurora has a little crush on Johnny Depp,” Orlando confirmed, wishing the press conference was over.
“Perhaps we should let someone else ask questions,” Johnny remarked, wanting to change gears before things got ugly. He could see Orlando’s hand under the table, clenched in a fist. He didn’t want Orlando to get the urge to use it.
The reporter feigned an expression of innocence. “But I have one more question.” She barreled on before anyone could stop her. “Is that why Della often referred to you as ‘Johnny,’ Mr. Bloom?”
If Keira hadn’t of grabbed his arm, Orlando probably would have sprung to action. Rage built inside him as bedlam broke out in the room. How dare she bring up his dead wife like she was grist for the gossip mill? The fact that Della used to call him Johnny—a nickname derived from his middle name Jonathan and an affectionate alternative to his first name during their clandestine communications before her death—was confidential information. The only way she could have found out was—
Ignoring the shouts and the hands trying to restrain him, Orlando suddenly got up from his chair and stormed out. His heart was racing, his mind acting in kind. He was nearly to his car when he realized that Keira had followed him. He didn’t even look back at her as he spoke in clipped tones.
“What the hell do you want?” he demanded.
“To talk to you,” Keira responded, breathing heavily. “You can’t go storming home like this. You’ll say something you’ll regret.”
Orlando unlocked his car and yanked the driver’s side door open. “Too late. Someone’s already done that for me. Now I’ve got to find out who.”
Afraid that he was going to do something stupid, Keira jumped into the car with him. She’d barely closed the door when he started the engine and roared off. Keira braced herself on the dash again the momentum. It was a going to be a wild ride. She hoped she could calm him before he got home. Or else the outcome would be dire.
* * *
Sometime later. Still May 16. Dora’s house. Los Angeles, California.
Gus liked staying with Aunt Dora, though he wouldn’t admit that aloud. No, he wouldn’t tell anyone how he liked the colors in Aunt Dora’s flower garden or the things she kept in a place she called her “collectible room.” He especially liked the katana she had encased in glass and wood—now that was one thing he could admit to—and the funny-looking porcelain pig she had sitting by the window. They were little things that made him feel like home.
But Aunt Dora was cool, too. People thought she was stuck-up and prissy, but she didn’t mind it at all when she’d gotten soaked during their water gun battle in the backyard. As a matter of fact, she giggled—before she blasted him back. And then she made grilled cheese on the stove top for lunch and let him have his favorite drink.
At the moment, Aunt Dora sat at the piano with Ariel. Ariel was having fun pressing piano keys at random. He and Aurora were playing Monopoly. Much to Gus’s dismay, Aurora was winning.
“I don’t get it,” Gus grumbled. “How is it that you’re winning and I’m not? I’ve got hotels on my properties!”
“Maybe it’s because you’ve spent up all of your money buying them,” Aurora told him as she snatched up the dice. Gus just grumbled something under his breath in response as the front door slammed.
Dora, Aurora, and Gus looked up as Orlando stormed into the room. Keira came barreling in behind him, face red with exertion. The twins opened their mouths to greet him and Keira, but the anger in his eyes had them stopping short. The cold silence was filled with Ariel’s tinkering with the piano keys. Dora had been too stunned to stop her.
“I am going to ask you a question,” Orlando began in that quiet, stern voice that informed Aurora and Gus that they were in trouble somehow, “and you had better answer me truthfully or you’re both in trouble.”
Orlando took a couple of steps toward them. Ariel turned and tried to get off the piano bench but Dora scooped her up. She struggled, her three-year-old body bucking against her aunt’s. Aurora looked up her father, confused, while Gus swallowed audibly.
“Have either of you been talking about your mother to your friends at school?” Orlando asked.
Now more perplexed than afraid, Gus shook his head vigorously. “No, Dad. I haven’t been talking about Mum.” Looking to his twin, Gus expected to see his perplexed expression mirrored on Aurora’s face. Instead, he saw that she had lowered her head. He blinked at her, scared for her. “Aurora?”
Aurora’s bottom lip trembled, but she said nothing. She didn’t have to. Her guilty expression said it all.
“Aurora?” Aurora remained silent. “Aurora Rosalind Bloom—answer me right this instant—”
“They asked me about her so I told them,” Aurora blurted out, her voice shaky and tearful. “We were painting our nails and having fun and they asked me about Mummy. And I told them.” She looked up at her father with a defiance that obviously she’d inherited from her mother. This time her voice was stronger—and insolent. “I would do it again.”
Fury lanced through Orlando’s eyes. Aurora saw it. The sad thing was, she didn’t feel fear. Only indignation. “Oh would you, now? I’m glad you have such consideration for your mum that you would gossip about her—”
She shot to her feet even though Orlando towered over her the way a skyscraper towered over a street light. “It was not gossip!” Aurora cried, voice nearly at a roar. Ariel started crying in earnest, and Keira moved to Orlando while Gus moved to Ariel. Aurora deflated as she listened to Ariel cry. She remembered the day Ariel was born—the last time she’d seen Della alive.
Her voice came out quiet, so quiet that they could hardly hear her. “I love Mummy. I would never ever gossip about her. She means too much to me.” With angry eyes, Aurora walked around her father and out of the room. Keira called after her but she kept going.
As Aurora fled to her room upstairs, the front door opened and slammed again. Dora stood, with Gus beside her, holding a sobbing Ariel as Penny strode into the room.
Penny was shrewd enough to realize what had happened without anyone speaking. She’d just finished a harried conversation with her cousin Audrey, during which Audrey had informed her of the call she’d received from Orlando only moments ago. Knowing how he thought, Penny jumped in her car and sped over to her older sister’s house. She stood there, now, wearing the midnight-blue dress from some useless designer name that she had worn to a party that seemed insignificant in comparison.
She turned to her sister first, then thought better of it and turned to Orlando.
“Orlando—with me,” she snapped. “In the den. Right now.”
Orlando whirled around. At the moment, it was difficult to tell whose fury was more daunting. Apparently, Orlando must have thought Penny’s was, because he strode silently out of the room.
“I’m going with you,” Keira spoke up.
Penny’s blue eyes hardened. “The hell you are. I’ve got a bone to pick with him. I’d rather do it in private.”
Keira’s eyes hardened in kind. “Bullshit. So do I. I’m coming, too. No questions asked.”
Penny and Keira gazed at each other. If looks could kill, it would have been a double murder. Dora and Gus watched avidly, wondering who would back down first. Seeing that it was only a waste of time to argue with Keira, and also admiring her spunk, Penny backed down—fractionally.
“Fine,” Penny said abruptly. “You can come. I guess we can both knock some sense into him.”
As the two women, the tall, elegantly dressed model and the willowy, casually, but stylishly dressed actress, turned and marched from the room side by side, Keira retorted, “I intend to do that part literally. How about you?”
“Knocking sense into a man doesn’t help if it ain’t literal,” Penny shot back. “Especially that man.” She glanced at Keira sidelong. “Even though I came in on it late, I’d say he deserves it.”
Remembering Aurora’s expression and her words filled with suffering and insolence, Keira nodded grimly. “And being there from the beginning, I’d be inclined to agree with you.”
* * *
Meanwhile, in the living room, Gus broke away from Aunt Dora soothing Ariel and stood at the doorway so he could listen.
He was upset. He didn’t like seeing his father and his twin arguing, nor did he like seeing his little sister cry. He was angry with his father for making Aurora cry, and he was mad at the both of them for shouting at each other and making Ariel cry. However, he didn’t intend to stay angry. To him, it was a useless emotion. He’d rather everything be smoothed out and everyone be happy again.
Unfortunately, there was anything but getting along going on in the den at the moment. Gus winced as he heard his father swear at Aunt Pen. He shook his head in sympathy as he heard Aunt Pen slap him. Or had that been Keira?
“You have no right to slap me around,” Orlando was saying. “That was my wife—may she rest in peace—that fucking reporter was gossiping about. She made something that means the world to me the punch line to her cruel joke. And my daughter may have given her the ammunition.”
“I don’t give a goddamn,” Penny countered hotly. “You should know better. Your daughter is a smart girl, and quite careful about whom she talks to. She doesn’t go around telling people about her life. She has two best friends she trusts more than the sun rises and sets, and I hardly blame her. Bridget Moorland and Flana Callum are good girls. They wouldn’t blab on their best friend. They know better.”
Memory flashed in Gus’s mind, and, along with it, a growing comprehension. But it hadn’t been Bridget and Lana over during the sleepover, Gus thought, mind racing. That new girl was there, too. She might have…
Brown eyes huge, he rushed from the room. He nearly ran into his father, who walked past him and up the stairs. Gus knew, in his state, his father wouldn’t listen to him. Hearing the female voices coming from the den, he raced into that room, hoping he’d found somebody—or somebodies—who would listen.
He jumped up and down and waved his hands around to get their attention. Penny perched on the arm of the couch and Keira stood in front of her. When Keira finally noticed him, she paused and frowned. His heart sighed. She was so gorgeous…
“Hey there, Gus,” she said, tone distracted. “What’s the matter?”
“It isn’t Aurora’s fault!” he exclaimed, getting to the heart of the matter. “She…she didn’t know.” Gus’s eyes drooped mournfully. “It’s my fault. I should have said something, and now Dad’s mad at her.”
Penny shifted off of the arm of the couch and stood. She towered over him, making him feel a bit scared. But she wasn’t trying to appear imposing; Gus felt the fear of possibly getting in trouble, too, and earning his father’s rarely-displayed wrath.
“What didn’t Aurora know, Gus?” Penny asked, trying to keep the edge that stress was threatening to insert into her voice.
“The little one,” Gus answered hurriedly. “The blonde one. Her name was Kylie. I saw her sneaking around the house after everyone was asleep.” He took in a deep breath and tried not to fold under Keira and Penny’s rapt gazes. “I was going back up to my room after some cranberry apple juice and heard a door open. I hid against the wall and saw her walk past me. She didn’t see me.”
“Which room did she come out of?” Keira asked, kneeling down to him. “Can you remember?”
Gus paused, and tried to do so. It was hard not getting caught up in those brown eyes, that sultry mouth… Hastily, he brought himself back to attention. “I…It seemed like she wasn’t walking for long, so it might have been Dad’s room.”
Penny swore under her breath and dropped her head into her hands. Keira looked up at her, then back at Gus.
“Did she take anything?” Keira inquired.
“She had three books,” Gus told Keira. “They were red. I sort of recognized them, but I don’t remember where they came from.”
Penny cursed again, looking like she wanted to hurt something. She lowered her head, hands on her hips, and Keira could see her fighting tears. Gus wondered why Aunt Pen looked like she wanted to cry—and hurt something.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” Keira said to Penny.
Keira and Penny shared a look. Coming to the same conclusion, they darted from the room, intending to save Orlando from making a big mistake.
Keira leaned down and kissed Gus hurriedly on the mouth on the way out, making his heart sigh again. He couldn’t fight jubilance. His first kiss, and from his crush. An older woman, no less! The situation had a definite upside. But he frowned as he thought of his twin. He hoped that he had helped somehow.
* * *
Meanwhile, Keira and Penny rushed up the stairs, yelling Orlando’s name. As they climbed the stairs, Keira turned to Penny, a question on her lips.
“What’s the deal with those books Gus mentioned?” Keira asked, huffing, only slightly because she was in damn good shape.
“They’re not books,” Penny said bitterly, holding the hem of her dress in her fisted hands. “They’re old diaries of Della’s. She used to write things in them, stories, poems, daily events. Orlando gave our family all of them except for the last three when she died. I’m sure their whole courtship and marriage are in those three. Orlando used to read them to Ariel when she was a little baby.” Her eyes hardened with the anger. “And now whenever he has a break from working.”
It was Keira’s turn to curse. “Bloody fucking hell,” she muttered. Louder, she yelled, “Orlando!”
As they reached the landing, Orlando emerged from Aurora’s room, face taut with anger.
“What the bloody hell is wrong with you two?” Orlando demanded.
Since her ire was already up, and steadily climbing, Penny put her hands on Orlando’s chest and shoved him backward a couple of steps. Keira admired the move and regretted she wasn’t the one who did it. But at this rate, Orlando might deserve another shove later. And then it would be her turn.
Orlando regained his footing and glared at Penny. “What the hell was that for?”
“For being a blind and stupid sonofabitch,” Penny snapped, not caring that Aurora’s door was cracked open. “Can’t you see what the fuck just happened? You’re not the only victim here, Bloom.”
“I don’t have time to listen to the bullshit you’re spouting.”
Keira took that as her cue to give Orlando another shove. She was good at taking cues. It was her job. “Shut the fuck up, Orlando. And listen to what Penny’s saying to you.”
“I told you, I don’t have the time. I’ve got things to do. I’ve got to talk to—”
Keira and Penny shared another knowing look. They turned back to Orlando and each grabbed an arm in unison, which sent him sputtering. They pulled him back to his own bedroom. At the open door, they pushed him inside rather roughly. The momentum had him crashing into the bed and nearly flipping over it.
Damn women, he thought angrily as the door slammed shut. Keira and Penny, with their arms crossed and menacing looks on their beautiful faces, stood over him until he sat up on the bed.
“Now,” Penny began in an eerily calm voice that dimly reminded Orlando of his mother, “since it appears that you have been outnumbered and outmaneuvered, perhaps you’ll yank the cotton out of your ears and listen.” Orlando opened his mouth, but Penny spoke again. “Shut up. Just shut up. Your daughter is sitting in her room, heartbroken, because you’re not listening to me.”
“Say what you have to say, then,” Orlando said quietly, his heart twisting.
“Orlando,” Keira began, gently, because she knew her friend needed it, “we think Aurora was a pawn in the current situation. There’s no way she would allow something like this to happen. She loves you, and she loves her mother.”
Orlando looked at Keira for a long time, then at Penny. He said nothing.
“I only have one thing to ask of you,” Penny promised. “Then I will let you do whatever you need to do.” She dropped her arms to her sides and took a step forward. “I want you to find Della’s diaries. The ones you kept.”
The request had him blinking for a long time, both while he forced the tears back and tried to figure out where Penny was going with this. “You want me to—”
Penny looked at him impatiently, so he clamped his mouth shut. Standing, he scanned the room. His eyes fell on his underwear drawer. With his back turned, he opened it. He laid a hand flat to search the bottom, expecting to find what he was looking for.
Keira and Penny both witnessed as his back went rigid. His hands fell to his sides in a gesture of helplessness. Penny pursed her lips together and tried to hold back tears. This time, they were not of anger.
“Gus told us that Aurora’s new friend had been sneaking around the night of the sleepover,” Keira said softly to Orlando’s taut back. “He saw her carrying something.” She saw Orlando lift a hand, clench it into a fist. “Three books. Red.”
Orlando stood at his bureau for a long time, silent. He closed his eyes and tried to think of what he should do next. He hated the look that had been in his daughter’s eyes. And he hated even more that he’d been the one to put it there.
He slid the drawer closed and turned slowly. Keira and Penny stared at him, but this time, the anger had disappeared from their eyes. He strode to them, paused. Keira came to him first and hugged him. While he embraced Keira, Penny’s cell started singing “Wake Up Call.” As Adam Levine’s voice poured from Penny’s phone, Penny flipped it open and stared at the LCD screen.
She cursed silently and pushed send. “Liz? What is it?” Orlando and Keira watched as she sighed impatiently and rolled her eyes. “Oh alright. Putting it on speakerphone now.” She pushed a button, and Elizabeth Henderson’s voice filled the room.
“Hey. Orlando, you there?” Elizabeth asked.
Orlando moved closer to Penny so he could be heard. Keira followed. “Yeah, I’m here,” Orlando responded.
“Look, I heard what happened today. Pissed me off royally.”
“You’re not the only one,” Keira murmured.
Even though she had spoken softly, Elizabeth had heard her. “What was that?”
“Nothing,” Penny said. “Just go on, Liz.”
She could have figuratively boxed Penny’s ears for that one but Elizabeth elected to just save time and relay the info in her hands at the moment.
“After I’d heard what happened, I got on the phone with Vanessa,” Elizabeth continued. “It turns out that an old enemy of hers—of ours, really—has ended up in your neck of the woods, Bloom.”
Orlando frowned. “Los Angeles?”
“No. London. Does the name Geraldine Doogan sound familiar? Well, if it doesn’t, let me give you some background. She’s the editor-in-chief at Crave Magazine. Which is tabloid trash, if you ask me. She’d called Audrey for an exclusive when Della died, but Audrey gave her a major brush off. I guess she decided she was going to get revenge.”
“Revenge?” Keira asked.
“I knew that was Keira Knightley I heard.” Elizabeth broke off for a second. “Sorry you had to be a part of this, Keira. I know it’s not exactly the best way to spend a weekday night.”
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now,” Keira assured her.
“Loyal. I like that. Anyhow, I don’t know if you all have been perusing the mag stand lately, but, apparently with Pirates 3 imminent, Crave boasts on their cover a world exclusive. Wanna guess what it is?”
Understanding, Orlando’s eyes darkened again. “Goddammit,” he swore.
“My sentiments exactly,” Elizabeth said grimly. “On a hunch, I dug some, called in some favors from some friends in London and found out good ol’ Geri has a little girl named Genifer. She attends Gus and Aurora’s school. Don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
Penny shook her head, plotting her own vengeance. “It’s not. Thanks for the info, Liz.”
The trio shared looks when the phone call ended. The two women and the man stood in silence, letting the peace soothe and sustain. Then, as the shock wore off, they realized it was time for action.
Orlando stepped away from Penny and Keira, intending to fix one mistake he’d made that night.