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"Harper, why are you just staring at me like that?" Marissa Hamilton asked, regarding her cousin with somber curiosity. She had never seen him look so stricken.
Something is wrong.
He turned and closed her office door so they would not be disturbed. "I just found out something that I think you should know, Marissa."
"What is this about, Harper?"
He looked as if he were weighing the question.
" she prompted.
"I guess there's no way to say this except to just say it," Harper muttered after a moment. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before saying, "Marissa, this is about my dad, your mother and you."
Confused, Marissa frowned. "You aren't making any sense, Harper. What does Uncle Frank have to do with me and my mother?"
"Dad and Aunt Jeanette had an affair," Harper said in a low voice.
"Harper, have you lost your mind? H-how" Marissa stammered in bewilderment. "How could you let something like that come out of your mouth?"
There was a pensive shimmer in the shadow of Harper's eyes. "Marissa, you have to know that I wouldn't come to you with a lie this painful if it wasn't true." His gaze was almost pleading. "I wouldn't have said anything to you otherwise."
"It's not true," Marissa insisted. She felt her composure was under attack and she suddenly wanted to escape Harper's disturbing presence. "I don't believe a word of this, but even if it were true, it has nothing to do with me."
" He paused a moment before adding, "Don't you get it? You may not be my cousin. We may be siblings." Tears formed in his eyes. "This is so messed up."
She swallowed hard, trying to digest what Harper had just told her. It could not possibly be true. It had to be a lie.
"My dad and your mother had an affair twenty-seven years ago," he told her. Harper swiped at his eyes.
Marissa shook her head in denial. "I don't believe any of this, Harper. My mother would never cheat on my father and definitely not with his brother. Where did you hear this?"
"Does it really matter?" Harper asked.
She glared at him. "I don't get how you could believe anything like this about your dad and my mother of all people. None of this is true, Harper," Marissa stated firmly. "Whoever is spouting this lie is just trying to destroy our family."
"Azure would not do anything to hurt this family," he blurted. "She got this from an anonymous source and immediately came to me with it. Marissa, I didn't want to believe it at first either."
Harper's new wife, Azure, was a magazine writer and as such had numerous "sources." Marissa folded her arms across her chest. "Harper, why are you so convinced that it's true?"
"I know that my dad had an affair with your mother because I confronted him. He admitted that it was true."
Marissa felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. She was about to be sick. Dizziness threatened to overtake her, causing her to sway.
Harper reached for her when it looked as if Marissa was about to faint.
She steadied herself. "I'm fine. I just need some time alone."
"Marissa, I'm so sorry, but I thought you should know the truth."
I just need to be alone right now. I'll be okay," she assured him.
When Harper left her office, Marissa navigated slowly over to the plush sofa in her office and sank down, grateful for its welcoming embrace.
She tearfully surveyed her office, the rich mahogany furnishings, the Oriental rugshe knew every inch of the law firm located in the prewar building in Ritten-house Square in the historic city of Philadelphia. This place had been her second home since the day she was born. That familiarity suddenly seemed to diminish by Harper's declaration that Jacob Hamilton Jr. might not be her biological father.
Jacob and her mother, Jeanette, raised five children together: Jacob III, Anthony, Marcus, Jillian and her. Marissa knew that her parents loved and respected each other. There was just no way that her prim and proper mother would have an affair with her brother-in-law.
The Hamiltons were a very close-knit family. She and her siblings were all attorneys and worked in the family firm. Frank and three of his sons, Harper, Shawn and Benjamin, were also attorneys working at Hamilton, Hamilton and Clark. Only Frank and Vanessa's son Nelson decided to go against tradition and pursued a career in acting instead.
"I need to get out of here," Marissa whispered.
She paused to let her assistant know that she was stepping out for a half hour or so, and would be back in time for her next meeting.
Marissa strolled out of the building and walked down the street to a tree-filled park. She found an empty bench and sat down. In about an hour, local residents and employees gathering for lunch would overrun the park. The October weather was still nice enough to sit outside in and enjoy eating with friends and family.
A small group of children playing nearby caught her attention. One little girl fell down and began to cry. A man rushed over and scooped her up into his arms.
Marissa felt her own eyes water at the sight of a father soothing his daughter and wiping away her tears. Her father.Jacob had done the same for her so many times when she was younger. He had always made her feel safe and loved.
She knew deep down that Harper never would have come to her if he did not have a reason to believe his hideous revelation was true. She also knew that Azure would not reveal the secret, but someone out there was spreading this rumor.
Marissa feared that if the information ever became public, it would have a devastating impact on her family and the firm.
Griffin Jackson was usually in his office by seven-thirty on weekdays. He liked coming in early just to spend some time reflecting over his day without any distractions. Griffin was usually the first one to arrive in the mornings and the last one to leave Hamilton, Hamilton and Clark in the evenings.
The now deceased Jacob Hamilton Sr. and Albert Clark had founded the family-owned law firm in 1960. Albert Clark was still active, although eighty years old. He shared leadership of the company with Jacob Jr. and Frank.
Griffin had interned at Hamilton, Hamilton and Clark while in law school and had been offered a permanent position by Albert Clark, who had taken the young man under his wing. Griffin had met Albert Clark when the esteemed attorney gave a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The day after graduation, Griffin had started his career with the firm, and he had been with the company for five years.
The hours were long, leaving little time for socialization, but as far as Griffin was concerned, this was a dream come true for him and he would make the necessary sacrifices to reach his goal of making partner. He had worked hard and his legal reputation was growing. Hamilton, Hamilton and Clark paid him more money than he could ever have imagined earning.
Griffin read over a set of interrogatories, pausing to make notes here and there on a legal pad.
He leaned back in his chair, his eyes traveling to an elegantly framed photograph hanging on his wall. All of the associates had one in their officeit was a photo of the attorneys in the firm. Griffin's gaze landed on Marissa.
He had been fighting his feelings for Marissa for years. Griffin noticed her the very first day he walked through the doors of Hamilton, Hamilton and Clark. At the time, Marissa was in collegetoo young. She was also Jacob Hamilton Jr.'s daughter, which made her completely off-limits.
Now Marissa was all grown up. However, Griffin wanted to ensure that his career was firmly established before he settled down, which meant that falling in love with her would be a distraction he could not afford.
Marissa stepped out of the elevator and saw that Griffin was walking a client to the door. He stepped aside to let her enter through the mahogany doors.
She gave him a tiny smile of gratitude but did not linger.
A few minutes later, Griffin appeared in the doorway of her office. "You all right?" he asked. His gaze was as soft as a caress.
"I'm fine," Marissa responded with a nod.
Griffin's expression showed that he did not believe her. He walked all the way into her office and said, "Marissa, what's really going on? You look troubled about something."
She looked up, meeting his gaze. "It has nothing to do with work, Griff."
"Okay," he said, quickly backing off. "But if you need to talk
about any of your cases, you know where to find me."
She forced a smile. "I know. Thanks."
He was still watching her. Marissa thought she detected a flicker in his intense eyes, sending her pulse racing alarmingly.
Marissa noted how well the black suit fit his six-foot frame. She was entranced by his compelling personage. She found him very attractive. Griffin wore his hair cropped close and his dark brown eyes complemented his warm brown complexion. At thirty years old, Griffin tended to treat her as if she were years younger, when in fact there was only a four-year age difference between them.
She checked her watch. "I have about five minutes to prepare for a meeting," Marissa announced.
Taking the hint, Griffin nodded and headed to the door. "Don't forget what I said."
"I won't," Marissa responded as he walked out. Something in Griffin's manner always soothed her, which was why she'd often confided in him in the past. However, things had changed between them in the past few months, to the point that Marissa was somewhat surprised when Griffin had ventured into her office just now. Lately, the only time he stopped by was to discuss a case.
She released a soft sigh. Marissa had wanted to confide in Griffin, but the risk was much too high. She did not want what Harper had told her leaking out. She intended to have a conversation with Azure, as well. Clearly someone was out to hurt her family.
She was not about to let that happen.
After her meeting, Marissa worked in her office until three o'clock. It was a struggle for her to concentrate and she felt queasy, so she decided to go home. She packed up her briefcase, intending to get some work done therelocked in her bedroom. She just wanted to be alone.
Ten minutes later, she was in her BMW X5 and pulling out of the parking structure.
A wave of disappointment flowed through Marissa. After what Harper told her, she felt that everything she'd ever known about her parents had been a lie.
She had never heard her parents arguethey had always been very loving toward each other. So what would make her mother cheat on a man she proclaimed to love more than life itself?
As she neared home, Marissa released a soft sigh. She could hardly wait to get to her room and soak in a hot bath.
The Hamiltons had lived in the West Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia since the founding of the law firm. The neighborhood had a rich Revolutionary War history and featured a mosaic of restaurants, shops and cultural venues.
Marissa's eyes watered at the sight of Integrity, the family homestead. She loved the late-1800s Victorian-style home that had been a staple in her family for two generations. All of her friends used to tease Marissa about living in a castle that came complete with turret and gargoyles. Her family later added a swimming pool and basketball and tennis courts.
She walked into the house, struggling to keep her expression blank. Marissa was hoping to avoid her mother and escape to her room. She was not ready to face Jea-nette yet. She was still in shock from the news that Harper had given her.
"Marissa, dear," her mother greeted from the kitchen. She met Marissa at the bottom of the back stairs carrying a bottle of water. "How was your day at the office?"
"It was fine," she muttered in response.
"Your father and I are having dinner at Devon's tonight," Jeanette announced. "Why don't you join us? Your sister's going to meet us there."
Devon Seafood Grill was a favorite of hers, but Marissa really could not stomach being around her mother right now. "I'll just make something here," she told Jea-nette. "I brought some work home with me."
"Dear, are you feeling well?" her mother inquired as she scanned Marissa's face. "You look a little peaked."
"I'm fine," Marissa lied. "I need to get started on this work."
She walked briskly out of the kitchen before Jeanette could utter a response.
Marissa rushed up the stairs and to her bedroom. She dropped her briefcase and purse on the bed before taking off for her bathroom.
When she walked out a few minutes later, she felt weak, but the queasiness was gradually dissipating.
She changed into a pair of sweats and an oversized T-shirt, then climbed into her bed and opened her briefcase.
There was a soft knock on her door before her mother popped her head inside.
"I didn't mean to disturb you, but I thought you could use some hot tea," Jeanette said as she walked into Marissa's bedroom. "I can tell that you are not feeling well."
Marissa accepted the tea with a grateful smile. "Thank you."
"Have you considered going to see Dr. Wallace?"
"Mother, I'm just tired," Marissa responded with a small sigh. "I don't need to see a doctor."
"Are you getting enough rest?" Jeanette asked. "I know how you lawyers tend to burn the candle at both ends."
Marissa was touched by her mother's concern, but she was also angry with her. She cleared her throat awkwardly before saying, "That's probably it, but I'll be fine. I'm going to take a hot bath and turn in pretty early tonight."
Jeanette studied her for a moment. "Marissa"
"Mother, I really need to get some work done," she interjected. "The sooner I get it done, the sooner I can have that bath and get some rest."
"Okay, dear. I'll get out of here." Her mother backed off and headed to the door. "I'll see you in the morning."
Marissa shook her head sadly. She would never be able to look at her mother in the same way. Their relationship would never be the same.