“You have Michael,” she reminded him. And the next thing he said hit her like a punch in the solar plexus, and he was a big man and packed a powerful punch.
“And Mimi’s gone,” he said softly, as Hope tried to catch her breath and steady herself from the blow. It was his stock-in-trade now, putting her off balance and making her unstable, hurting her when she least expected it, in all the ways that hurt most. “That just leaves me,” he repeated for emphasis. Hope didn’t answer, and they walked along in the falling snow. But he had hit his mark. She felt even sadder than she had before, and then they went back to the house. He had been reminding her that she was dependent on him now, and without him she was alone. It was a shot across her bow. And she suddenly found herself thinking of Robert and his many warnings. They had agreed that he wouldn’t call her, so Finn didn’t get angry or upset. But if she needed Robert, she knew where to reach him. She had all his numbers in her purse.
She and Finn cooked dinner together that night, and he went upstairs to work while she got things ready, and he was wearing an odd expression when he came back downstairs to the kitchen in the basement. They still needed to restore that. It was functional, but grim. Most of the time they used the pantry on the main floor, but not that night.
Just as they sat down at the kitchen table where the servants used to eat, Finn turned to her with a glint in his eyes, and she wondered if he’d had a drink after their walk, or maybe even before. He was drinking way too much these days. He never used to, but he did now. She wondered if the pending lawsuit was causing him to drink.
“Where were you last night?” he asked her innocently.
“On the plane. Why?” She could feel her heart race, and looked blank as she served him pasta from a large bowl.
“Are you sure?” he asked, looking her in the eye.
“Of course I am. Don’t be silly. Where else would I have been? I got here this morning.” She dug a fork into her pasta, and he slammed her passport and a notepad onto the table next to her plate.
“Tell me about it. You stayed at a hotel in Dublin. I found this notepad in your purse when I was looking for something. I called them. And you were there last night. Your passport says you arrived in Ireland yesterday. Not today.” And then he produced the piece of paper with Robert’s numbers. She had written down only “Robert,” no last name. Finn was an excellent detective. And Hope felt like she was going to have a heart attack. It was hard to explain. She had taken the notepad off the desk at the hotel without thinking. And Finn had found it. It never occurred to her to ask what he was looking for in her purse, she was too scared. Her night in Dublin was going to be hard to explain.
She had no choice but to be honest with him. She always had been until now. It was the first time she had ever lied to him, about her arrival, or anything else. “You’re right. I arrived yesterday. I wanted a night to myself in Dublin. And I met with an attorney from my New York law firm. They thought I should see a lawyer here, about taxes, residency issues, this house. I met him, stayed at the hotel, and drove here this morning. End of story. I’m sorry that I lied.” She looked remorseful, and she was not going to tell him about dinner with Robert, or Finn might go into a jealous rage, and there was no way he would believe it was innocent. He never did. In spite of herself, Hope looked frightened and was shaking.
“He’s the attorney.”
“He gave you his home and cell numbers? You fucked him at the hotel, didn’t you, you little slut. And who were you fucking in New York? Your agent? Or some guy you picked up at a bar? A trucker on Tenth Avenue maybe while you took his picture.” He knew she went to places like that to take photographs, and he used it against her now. “Did you take pictures of his cock?” He spat the words in her face, and Hope started to cry. He had never talked to her like that before, or been as crude. He was starting to cross boundaries he never had. Robert had warned her that he would, and she didn’t believe him. “What about Robert? Was he good? Not as good as I am, I’ll bet.” Hope didn’t comment. She just sat there at the table looking paralyzed and ashamed. He made her feel like a tramp, and she had done nothing wrong. She had seen a lawyer and had dinner, and would never have considered doing anything more. It didn’t cross her mind. That wasn’t who she was. But he accused her of it, with venom in his eyes and poison in his mouth.
“Nothing happened, Finn. I met with a lawyer, that’s all.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
“Because sometimes my business is private.” And even if it had been business, he would have insisted on coming with her. He never let her do anything alone. It was all about control. He even wanted to go to the doctor with her, as he had to the fertility doctor in London. He was intrusive, and wanted to be in full control of her at all times.
“How private was it?” he asked, looking at her, and this time she was sure he’d been drinking. If not, he was insane. And maybe he was that too. He looked like a crazy person as he glared at her, knocked his chair back until it fell, and paced around the kitchen, while she watched him, trying not to anger him further. She sat very still, praying that he’d back down.
“You know I wouldn’t do anything like that,” she said, trying to sound calmer than she felt.
“I don’t know shit about you, Hope. And you know even less about me.” It was probably the most honest thing he had ever said to her about himself, but the way he said it wasn’t reassuring. “For all I know, you’re a whore who blows every guy you meet whenever I’m not around.” If Hope had dreamed of finding the old Finn when she got there, she had encountered the new Finn instead, an even newer one, who was worse. The real one.
“Why don’t we calm down and eat dinner. Nothing happened in Dublin. I spent the night in a hotel alone. That’s all.” She sat straight in her chair, looking dignified and small, and before she knew what had happened, he grabbed her out of her chair, and slammed her up against the wall. She nearly flew across the room in his grip, and let out a gasp as she hit the wall with her back, and he lowered his face next to hers.
“If you ever fuck anyone, Hope, I’ll kill you. Do you understand that? Is that clear to you? I won’t put up with that from you. Get that through your head right now.” She nodded, unable to speak, while tears choked her throat. She could hear a grinding in her ears from when he’d slammed her against the wall, and she was sure it was the sound of her heart breaking. “Answer me! Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she whispered. She was sure that he was drunk. He wouldn’t behave that way if he weren’t. But if so, they had to do something about it. Or he did. He was under a lot of stress over the lawsuit and the books he had to write. It was obviously driving him over the edge, and now her with it.
He slammed her back into her seat then, and glared at her while she pecked at her dinner. The look in his eyes was not one she recognized. She had never seen him that way before, and it occurred to her as she moved the pasta around her plate and pretended to eat it that she was alone in the house with him. Winfred and Katherine went home at dinnertime, and she was alone with Finn every night until morning. It had never worried her before, but it did now for the first time.
There were no more outbursts during dinner. He didn’t say a word to her. He took the piece of paper with Robert’s numbers on it, shredded it, and then shoved the pieces into the pocket of his jeans so she couldn’t find them. He left the pad and passport on the table. And then without a word, he left the room, and left her to clean up. She sat for a long time at the table, with tears streaming down her cheeks and choking on sobs. And he had made the point earlier. She was alone in the world now. All she had was him. She had nowhere to turn, and no one to love her. With Paul gone, she felt like an orphan in a fairy tale, and the handsome prince was turning into a wild beast.
It took her an hour to calm down and clean up the kitchen. She spent most of it crying, and was afraid to go upstairs, but she knew she had to. And when she thought about it calmly, she realized that the fact that she’d spent the night in Dublin didn’t look good. The piece of paper with Robert’s numbers on it looked suspicious. She could see why he was upset, since she had lied to him about it when she’d arrived. She realized that she should have told him the truth about when she was coming, but if she had, she would never have been able to meet with Robert and she was glad she had. It had been helpful and good to know that she could turn to someone somewhere, if she needed to, to help her. And he was at least nearby. But she could also understand that Finn was upset that she had disappeared for a day and lied to him about her arrival. Although it had been innocent, she felt guilty about it, and in some way didn’t blame him.
She dreaded going upstairs to see him, and was surprised to find when she did, that he was sitting in bed waiting for her. He looked peaceful and as though the scene in the kitchen hadn’t happened. Seeing him go from one mood to the extreme opposite like that was terrifying. One moment brimming with rage like a dragon, the next calmly in bed, smiling at her. She wasn’t sure if he was crazy or she was, and she stood looking at him for a moment, with absolutely no idea what to say.
“Come to bed, Hope,” he said, as though they’d had a pleasant evening, which they certainly hadn’t. It had been anything but that, and now he looked like it had never happened. Watching him lie there, all innocence, made her want to cry.
She got into bed cautiously beside him a few minutes later, after brushing her teeth and putting on her nightgown. She glanced at him as though he were a poisonous snake about to strike.
“Everything is fine,” he said to her soothingly, and put an arm around her. It was almost worse than if he were still angry at her. This was just too confusing. “I was thinking,” he said easily, as she lay there stiffly beside him, waiting to see what would come next. It was impossible to relax now. “I think we should get married next week. There is no reason for us to be waiting. We’re not going to have a wedding anyway, with people coming from far away. And I don’t want to wait any longer. We’re all alone in the world, Hope, you and I. If anything ever happens to either of us, like what just happened to Paul, we should be married. No one wants to die alone.”
“Paul was very sick, for a long time. And I was with him,” she said in a choked voice.
“If either of us has an accident, the other would be unable to make decisions. You don’t have kids or family. Michael’s not here for me. We only have each other.” It was a recurring theme for him tonight, to emphasize her solitude and remind her that she only had him to rely on. “I’d feel better if we were legally married. We can always have a party later, in London, New York, or Cape Cod. It’s time, Hope, it’s been a year. We’re grown-ups. We love each other. We know what we want. There’s no point waiting. And we need to get going on the baby project again,” he said, smiling at her. It was as though the scene in the kitchen had never happened. An hour before, he had been threatening her and slamming her into a wall, and now he wanted to get married in a week, and get her pregnant. Listening to him, Hope felt insane. “It’s been six months since you lost the last baby,” he reminded her, and for once he didn’t say it was her fault. It was as though he had cleared his pipes in the kitchen, and now he was his old self again. The good Finn was back with them, tucked into bed with her. But she no longer believed what she was hearing. She didn’t trust it, or him. Not at all.
And she wasn’t ready to marry him, by any means, and she had the strong impression this was only about money. If he was married to her, and anything happened to her in that isolated house in the Irish countryside, he would be the heir to her fortune, and to Paul’s once that came to her. And with a child, she would be even more locked in. Robert had pointed that out to her the day before in his office, and it was obvious to her too. But she didn’t want to get Finn mad at her again by saying she wasn’t ready to get married. At least not tonight. She’d feel better talking about it in the morning, with Winfred and Katherine around, in broad daylight. Not when she was alone in the house, and he might fly into another rage like the one in the kitchen. She’d had enough excitement for one night.
“Can we talk about it tomorrow?” she said evenly. “I’m exhausted.” The scene with him at dinner had made her feel like she’d been hit by a bus. For several minutes, she had been terrified of him. But he seemed totally calm now, and even loving. She felt as though he had ripped through all her gears, and she was still trembling inside and felt very tense. She tried not to let it show.
“What’s to talk about?” he asked, putting an arm around her. “Let’s just do it.” She could tell that this was going to be the subject of their next big fight.
“We don’t have to make that decision tonight, Finn,” she said softly. “Let’s go to sleep.” It was still early, but she just couldn’t deal with it anymore. She was too hurt, too upset, too disappointed, and had been too frightened to want to talk about anything with him. All she wanted to do was go to sleep, or maybe die. She knew suddenly that this wasn’t going to get better, and it was going to be one fight after another. After his attack on her at dinner, she was losing hope, however nice he was now. It wasn’t likely to last long.
“You don’t love me, do you?” he asked in the voice of a small boy. Suddenly he was the injured child, and not the man who had terrified her, and all he wanted was to be loved. This was getting very sick. He cuddled up to her like a two-year-old nestled at her side and put his head on her shoulder. She sighed as she stroked his hair and face.
She loved him, but the roller-coaster ride was taking her breath away. He continued to snuggle up against her, and she turned off the light, and moments later he was pulling up her nightgown and wanted to make love. She was so upset and overwrought, she didn’t want to, but she was afraid that if she denied him, he’d start a fight with her again. And he was so expert at what he did that within moments, her body responded, even though her mind wanted to push him away, and her heart was totally confused. But her body suddenly wanted him. And he made love to her with such infinite gentleness and caring that there was no way to believe that this was the same man who had attacked her only hours before.
After they made love, she lay awake for hours while he snored. And she finally fell asleep, totally exhausted, at dawn. She had been crying silently all night, and she felt dead inside. He was killing her by inches. She just didn’t know it yet.
Finn was already up when Hope awoke the next morning. She got out of bed feeling drained and beaten, and her spirits were as gray as the weather. She looked tired and pale when she met him in the pantry eating breakfast. He looked full of energy and cheer, and told her how happy he was to have her home. He even seemed as though he meant it. She no longer knew what to believe.
She was cautiously sipping a cup of tea, when he mentioned the wedding again. He suggested they go in to talk to the vicar in the village, and said they had to go to the embassy in Dublin to get permission for her to be married in Ireland. He was an Irish citizen, but she wasn’t. He had already called the embassy to find out what they needed. And she realized that unless she was willing to marry him, she had to say something to him.
She set her teacup down and looked at Finn. “I can’t,” she said sadly, for reasons she couldn’t begin to broach with him. “Paul just died. I don’t want to start a new life right after something so sad.” It seemed like a reasonable excuse to her, but not to him.
“You were divorced, you’re not his widow,” he said, looking faintly annoyed. “And no one’s going to know the difference.”
“I do,” she said quietly.
“Is there some reason you don’t want to marry me?” he asked, looking hurt. There were an increasing number of them, but she wasn’t willing to discuss any of them with him. His many lies, the investigator’s report, the two women whose deaths he had indirectly caused, his recent demand for money, and his attack on her the night before. All seemed good reasons to her to think long and hard before she married him, or not do it at all. But then why was she living with him? Things between them were not as they had been before, even in their best moments now. There was always an undercurrent of something wrong. Things hadn’t been normal between them in well over a month, or more, ever since he’d asked her for the money.
“It’s not a simple matter,” Hope said patiently. “We have to get a prenuptial drawn up, sign papers, talk to lawyers. I’ve mentioned it to them, but it takes more than a couple of days. And I’d really rather get married in New York.”
“Fine,” he said, changing tacks unexpectedly, and for a split second, she was relieved. That had been easier than she thought. “Then how about you set up the account we talked about before? And we can wait to get married till the summer.” It was back to that again.
“What are we talking about, Finn?” She remembered the amounts, but she was wondering if anything had changed.
“I told you I’d settle for four million dollars, although I’d rather have five. But that was before Paul died. Given what he’s leaving you, I really think it should be ten.” Hope let out a sigh as she listened. This was exhausting, and none of it made sense, or maybe it did. Maybe this was all it had ever been about. She felt like she was fighting for her life from the moment she woke up until she went to sleep at night. “I know you don’t have the money from Paul yet. So let’s do five now, and five after the money from Paul comes through.” It seemed perfectly reasonable to him. He said it as though he was asking her to stop at the hardware store, or get him a subscription to a magazine. And he acted as though he expected her to do it, without question, and was sure she would.
“So you want five now, and five later,” she said, sounding like a robot. “And what kind of arrangement when we get married?” She figured she’d get it all on the table now, instead of waiting for him to ambush her with it.
“I can have my lawyer talk to yours,” he said pleasantly. “I think some kind of annual amount would be fair, maybe a signing bonus when we get married,” he said with a broad smile. “And I guess these days people prenegotiate a divorce, in case there is one, alimony and a settlement.” It sounded like a great arrangement to him, and the outrageousness of it didn’t strike him for a minute. “And let’s face it, Hope, I’m a lot more famous than you are, a rare commodity, and a hell of a deal for you at any price. At your age, guys like me don’t come along. I could be the last train out of the station for you. I think you need to keep that in mind.” What he said to her was breathtaking, and it was the first time he had made an issue of his fame, and belittled hers. She was surprised, but thought it wisest not to comment on any of it, but it was shocking, even to her.
“Sounds like an expensive deal,” she said quietly, as she poured herself another cup of tea, still stunned by what he’d said and what he was doing.
“I’m worth it, don’t you think?” Finn said as he leaned over and kissed her, as Hope looked at him with eyes full of tears. He was insane. Even she knew it now. “Something wrong?” He saw the expression on her face and the sag of her shoulders, which seemed surprising to him.
“I think it’s very depressing to be talking about money instead of love and the years we want to spend together, and prenegotiating alimony and a divorce. That’s a little too businesslike for me,” she answered, looking at him sadly.
“Then let’s just get married and forget the prenup,” he said simply. But there was no way they could do that. She was worth a substantial fortune, and Finn had nothing but debts, bills, and a lawsuit. She couldn’t be that irresponsible. Without a prenup, she’d be completely vulnerable to him financially, and he knew it. The whole conversation made her feel sick. There was no way they could ever marry. Finn was in a very good mood. He thought he had her trapped.
In the end, to pacify him, Hope said that she would think about it and let him know what she thought. She didn’t want to set him off by telling him there was no question of his getting the money he wanted, or her marrying him, and she didn’t want to give it to him either. She thought about his demands all day, as she edited some photographs, went to the FedEx office, and went for a walk alone in the woods. She didn’t see Finn again until late that afternoon. And he was as loving as he ever had been. The trouble now was that Hope no longer knew if it was about love or money, and she never would, he was slowly wearing her down, demoralizing her, and making her feel crazy and off balance. His financial demands were insulting and insane. She was trying to stay calm, but it was just too hard fighting with him all the time. He always had some obsession, whether it was getting her pregnant, getting married, or giving him millions of dollars for his own use. Hope was feeling overwhelmingly sad. The dream of love and trust that she had shared with him was crumbling in her hands like butterfly wings. They went from one upsetting subject to another, and had resolved nothing so far. It was all about money now, and he had asked her to prove her love for him by putting five million dollars in an account in his name. That was a lot of love. And what was he planning to give in return, other than his time? Even Hope herself was well aware that she was getting screwed. Worse than that, she felt like she was trapped in a spiderweb of deceit. He was the spider and it was becoming ever more clear that she was the prey.
Finn invited her to dinner in Blessington that night. She agreed to go, for distraction in her despair, and for once not a single difficult subject came up. Not money, not babies, not weddings. She was depressed at first, and surprised that they had a good time together like in the beginning, and once again, it gave her hope. She was constantly ricocheting now between hope and despair. And she was having more and more trouble getting up each time she got knocked down. Ever since Paul had died, she was tired. And Finn was slowly beating her down.
But miraculously, for the next several days, just as she had begun to lose hope, everything seemed to be all right again. Finn was in a good mood. He was writing. She was starting a new book of photographs of Ireland, and enjoying some projects in the house. It was beginning to feel like the early days when she had first bought the house. And she tried to put out of her mind the outrageous things he’d said to her, and the money he had asked for. Just for now. She needed the respite. And then a letter came by FedEx from New York. She took it up to Finn and left it with him, and when he came out of his office again, he looked like a black cloud.
“Bad news?” she asked, looking worried. Given the expression on his face, it would have been hard to believe it was good.
“They’re telling me that even if I deliver the book now, they won’t publish it. They’re going ahead with the suit. Fuck. And this is one of my best books.”
“Then someone else will publish it, and you may get a better deal.” She tried to sound encouraging, but he looked incredibly angry.
“Thank you, Little Miss Cheerful. They want their money back, and I’ve already spent the advance.”
Hope put a gentle hand on his shoulder, as he poured himself a stiff drink and took a long sip. He felt better when he did.
“Why don’t you let me ask Mark Webber to handle this, and see if he can negotiate something for you.”
Finn looked at her then with fury. “Why don’t you just fucking write them a check?” She didn’t like the way he had spoken to her, but she didn’t say anything to him about it, and refused to react in kind. She didn’t want another fight.
“Because a good lawyer can make a deal, and then we’ll see what we have to do.” She was trying to reassure him, without committing herself. It was hard to know these days where things were going to go with them. She was still hopeful, but realistically, less and less. Things weren’t going well. It was all about greed now, getting his hands on her money, and covering up old lies. As it said in the Bible, their house was built on sand.
“Is that a royal ‘we’?” he asked her in a nasty tone. “Or are you going to pay up, and stop making me hang by the neck about it? I need money. And I want my own account.” She was already clear about that. He had been saying it for weeks.
“But we don’t know how much you need,” she said quietly. Hope always got quiet when she was upset, either angry or scared.
“That’s beside the point. If you want me to stick around, I don’t want to be accountable to you. What I spend, how much, and what I spend it on is my business, not yours.” And yet he wanted her money to do it, but figured it was none of her business. It sounded pretty ballsy, even to her. “Let’s be honest about this, Hope. You’re forty-five years old, not twenty-two. You’re a pretty woman, but forty-five isn’t twenty-five or thirty. You don’t have a living relative in the world, no siblings, no parents, no cousins even, your only child is dead, and the last person you considered yourself related to, your ex-husband, just died last week. So who do you think is going to be around, if something happens to you, you know, say if you got sick? And what do you think would happen if I walk out on you, maybe because I found a twenty-two-year-old? Then what happens to you? You wind up fucking alone, probably forever, and one day you die alone. So maybe what you need to think about, if you don’t want to put that money in an account for me, is what your life is going to look like ten years from now, or twenty, when no one else is around, and you’re all alone. Looking at it from that perspective, you just may want to give some serious thought to making it attractive to me to stick around.” As Hope listened to him, she looked like she’d been slapped.
“Is that supposed to be a declaration of love?”
“Maybe it is.”
“And how do I know, if I set up these accounts for you in the right amounts, that you actually will stick around? Let’s say I do that, for five or ten million, and whatever you want when we get married, and then you meet the perfect twenty-two-year-old.”
“Good point,” he said, smiling. He looked as though he was enjoying the moment. Hope clearly wasn’t. “I guess you pays your money, you takes your chances. Because if you don’t put that money in the accounts, when Miss Perfect Twenty-Two-Year-Old shows up, especially if she’s some kind of an heiress or a debutante, then guess who won’t be sticking around to hold your bedpan in your old age.” She couldn’t imagine him doing that in any case, and the conversation they were having was beyond disgusting. She had never been so upset.
“So you’re basically suggesting that I buy you, as an insurance policy for my old age.”
“I guess you could say that. But look at the perks you’d be getting and already are. Sex anytime you want it, hopefully a baby, maybe even a couple of kids, if you take care of yourself. And I think we have a pretty good time.”
“Funny,” she said, the violet eyes shooting sparks, “you haven’t mentioned love. Or is that not part of the deal?” She had never been so insulted in her life. She was supposed to buy herself a guy. If she wanted Finn, there were no two ways about it, she had to pay the price.
And with that, Finn came and put his arms around her. He had seen the look on her face. “You know I love you, baby. I just have to cover my ass. I’m no kid either. And I don’t have the kind of money you do. There’s no Paul in my life.” But now he wasn’t in hers either. And Paul hadn’t made his fortune so that Finn could spend it screwing around, or maybe buying himself a few blondes, no questions asked. The very fact that Finn had asked her for this kind of money disqualified him, or should have. But she didn’t want to blow her top. If she did, she’d have to see it through, and end it with him, and she just wasn’t up to it. She felt destroyed, and paralyzed by his abuse.
“I’ll think about it,” she said, looking somber, trying to buy time and put him off, “and I’ll let you know tomorrow.” But she also knew that if she didn’t give Finn the money, their relationship would blow sky-high and it would be over. She hated everything he had said, the barely veiled threats to leave her for a younger woman, trying to scare her about being alone in her old age, reminding her that there would be no one to take care of her if she got sick. But was she truly ready to be alone forever? She felt like she was between a rock and a hard place and both were awful. Ending it or staying. And instead of telling her that he loved her and wanted to be with her forever, he was making it very clear that if several million dollars weren’t forthcoming, sooner or later he’d be out the door when a better deal came along, so she’d better ante up, if she knew what was good for her and didn’t want to wind up alone. He had certainly spelled it out. And she had no desire to buy a husband or lose him entirely yet. She was wandering around the house like a zombie, in a permanent state of silent distress.