For the first time, Yelena and Geraldine agreed that notifying the Teka family about the latest development with their troublesome in-laws wasn’t to their benefit. Still, they had to give them some excuse so that they could leave Joselyn in their care while they hurried out.

“I’ll be back in a few hours. A pipe broke loose and I’m the only one who can work on it.”

Phoebe frowned as she bounced Joselyn at her hip. “Sure you don’t need help?”

Stroking her daughter’s smooth cheek, Geraldine managed a grim smile and met Phoebe’s eyes. “It’s okay. My mom and I can handle it.”

Yelena refrained from rolling her eyes and Phoebe caught the reaction but made no mention of it. She sighed. “An extra hand wouldn’t hurt, Geri.”

Bart stood at Phoebe’s shoulder, watching Geraldine with a wary eye. “I could help.”

Phoebe nodded, looking up to give him a grateful smile. Joselyn rested her head against Phoebe’s shoulder while peeking up at her mother.

Geraldine swallowed the wave of panic. “You’re not good with this kind of thing, remember?”

Bart narrowed his eyes at her. “I don’t remember you making complaints about an extra hand during the renovations.”

“Who told you about the leak?” Abe asked, standing at Phoebe’s other shoulder.

“Andres,” Yelena muttered with a convincing scowl. “Complaining up a storm and threatening–”

“It’s fine,” Geraldine interrupted her mother, seeing Bart’s brow furrow even deeper. She couldn’t afford him wanting to come along out of concern and her mother’s overacting would only convince him to accompany them for security reasons. “T-They’re not in the house right now, because of the leak.”

Yelena snorted in disgust and turned away, taking the steps down to the driveway. She yanked open the car door and sat inside. The Teka family watched in silence, their expressions darkening in concern.

“I don’t see why we can’t help you clean up,” Darah suggested from behind Bart. She looked dead into Geraldine’s eyes. “What’s the big deal in us coming?”

“If she doesn’t want us to come, it’s fine. Go back inside,” Bart muttered, berating his sister for her harsh tone. He ignored her mumbling and nudged her inside. “C’mon.”

A twinge of pain hit when Bart’s cursory glance swept over her before he too entered the house. She’d deserved his snobbery but wished he would’ve at least insisted.

“You’ll let us know if you need backup and I’ll send Bart and Junior down,” Abe answered in a no-nonsense tone.

Geraldine swallowed and managed a nod. “Okay. Thanks.” She gave Joselyn a kiss on her cheek, told her she would be back in a bit. Joselyn whimpered for a minute before Phoebe made a funny face to grab her attention once more. Using this opportunity to flee, Geraldine hurried down the stairs to the car, her heart in her throat. When will this end? She wondered to herself, starting the engine.

“The lies have to stop, mija,” Yelena said sternly. “How will Bart trust you if you continue this way?”

“It won’t matter since I’m to be a dead man’s wife forever.” The words make her stomach churn, a cold sweat trickling down her spine.  She exhaled a harsh breath, putting the car in reverse.

Yelena muttered something in her foreign tongue, the one Geraldine couldn’t understand, and in that moment Geraldine was grateful she didn’t understand.

Tears filled her eyes as she looked to the front steps, watching Phoebe and Abe play with Joselyn to distract her. In the short period of time where she was Bart’s pretend fiancée, Geraldine had forgotten it was just pretend. But it was and she needed to snap out of it fast. This exhausting fight with her in-laws wouldn’t end if she didn’t fight it on her own.

Once they got to the house, a scowling Andres and Cristina stood in the driveway. Yelena muttered under her breath and barely waited for Geraldine to brake before she unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door.

“Mama,” Geraldine breathed in exasperation as her mother stepped out just as she put the car in park.

Stomping up the driveway, Yelena began a shouting match with Cristina in their native tongue. Geraldine yanked off her seat belt and hurried out, stepping in between the fierce women screaming in each other’s faces. No doubt the neighbors were curious and watching the fight from their windows. Skin on fire, she faced her in-laws. “Please, let’s go inside,” she petitioned in Spanish.

Begrudgingly, Andres led an enraged Cristina inside and Geraldine pulled Yelena who responded in kind. Once she closed the door, Cristina and Yelena started back up again, this time Andres chiming in when he could get a word in.

Too exhausted to play referee, Geraldine slumped into a chair. She closed her eyes and let their abusive words to drift in and out of her ears, not knowing what else to do. It was a small relief that she could barely understand their verbal tirade, though there was little doubt Cristina and Andres slandered her character with Yelena defending her while defacing theirs.

But when she distinctly heard her grandmother’s name used, Geraldine shot to her feet. “Shut up already!”

Wide-eyed and enraged, her in-laws glared up at her.

“Insulting my mother and my late grandmother will not make this negotiation happen.”

Yelena turned widened eyes to her daughter. “What negotiation?! We are not dealing with these demons.”

“Demons? Who are you calling a demon, shameless snake!” Cristina shrieked, face red with rage. She lunged at Yelena’s neck and Andres rushed forward as the two women fell to the floor. Geraldine screamed in alarm when her mother’s head hit the table’s edge and she jumped off the table, shoving Cristina back. “Mama!”

Disoriented but otherwise unharmed, Yelena raised herself on one elbow and rubbed the back of her head with the other.

“A-are you okay?” Geraldine demanded, feeling for blood or an open cut in her mother’s skull.

Then Cristina started to cry and Andres was at her side, cursing out Geraldine and her mother for their shameless behavior.

Anger surged from within and Geraldine whipped around. “Haven’t you done enough?!” her voice trembled with fury.

Cristina and Andres gaped at her with their jaws dropped, eyes wide in its sockets. She’d never raised her voice at them before, especially not with such vehemence.

The phone rang in the distance and Geraldine ignored it, glaring at them. “First you kill my grandmother and now you want to kill my mom?”

Mija…”

“Try to come after me and my family and I will personally deal with each one of you. Get out.”

Cristina recovered quickly, her face darkening to a scowl. “Then get ready to lose your child.”

The doorbell rang and Geraldine ignored it. “Try it and I will drag your precious son’s name and yours through the mud.”

Cristina blinked, stunned at the threat. Andres then recovered and moved in front of his wife, glaring at Geraldine. “What are you talking about?”

“You think I don’t have information that could ruin him AND you? You really think I’m the only one who suffered at your hand and his?”

Yelena groaned, pulling Geraldine’s sleeve. “The door, mija.”

Geraldine kissed her teeth in annoyance but pushed to stand. She glared down at her in-laws. “I was going to consider your request but after all you’ve done, I’m better off suing you for all you’re worth.” She yanked the door open, not even looking to see who it was.

“Did someone say sue?” a male voice drawled from the doorstep.

Geraldine turned at the voice and her eyes widened at the sight of Bart and the young lawyer J.R. Obed standing there. The younger man seemed eager to enter while Bart stayed on the doorstep, wearing a stormy expression.

Because his expression made her tremble, she glanced over his shoulder and her eyes widened even more at the small crowd of people standing in the driveway–her neighbors.

“May we come in?” J.R. Obed spoke up, redirecting her attention back to him. “We barely convinced your neighbors not to call the police just yet.”

“H-how did you know I was in trouble?” Geraldine stuttered as her heartbeat did.

“Open the door, Geraldine,” Bart said through clenched teeth.

A male cry from behind turned their attention to the living room. Geraldine scowled at the sight of Cristina slumped in a panicked Andres’ arms while Yelena looked on in aggravation.

“Call police!” Andres called out, holding his wife to his chest. “My wife!”

Bart pushed past Geraldine to enter, the young lawyer following him inside. Geraldine dropped her head and heaved a deep sigh. Then she heard the murmurs in her driveway and looked up, seeing the concerned and curious looks from her neighbors.

She groaned inwardly and quickly closed the door just as Andres began wailing an ugly-sounding cry, demanding in his broken English that someone–anyone–call the police while accusing Geraldine and Yelena to the two men for killing his wife.

After an unnecessary trip to the emergency center, the amused doctor deemed Cristina free to go home. Sitting on a bench on the other side of the lobby, shamefaced Andres glared at his wife who had undoubtedly feigned her faint spell to attract attention. Her antics and their international status unfortunately meant they would pay out of pocket without medical insurance on file. Andres mumbled about the high cost of the ambulance ride plus the IV drip and the doctor’s counsel while Cristina remained stubbornly silent.

“Shameless demons,” Yelena scoffed in disgust while J.R. and Bart spoke off in a distance.

Exhausted and emotionally spent, Geraldine dropped her head against Yelena’s shoulder. “I’m tired, Mama…”

She felt Yelena’s cold but smooth hand on her shoulder, heard the concern in her mother’s tone but couldn’t pick out all the words. All she could think about were her in-laws’ resentful glares, the neighbors’ disturbed stares and Bart’s frosty attitude toward her.

Geraldine sighed. “I just want to sleep,” she whispered, words garbled. Her eyelids felt heavy so she closed them, welcoming the blessed darkness.

“So the pipe leak was a lie to go deal with her in-laws? And aren’t they a little too old for faking fainting spells?” J.R. mused aloud, watching the middle-aged couple sitting a distance from Geraldine and her mother.

Too many lies, too many secrets, too much drama. Exhaling a harsh breath, Bart rubbed the back of his neck. “Honestly, I’m fed up with–”

“Geraldine!” Yelena Pena exclaimed from across the hall. “Geraldine, wake up!”

Bart and J.R. turned as did the medical professionals in the hallway. The sight of Geraldine slumped over erased the annoyance and hurt Bart felt, alarm kicking in. With his heart in his throat, Bart sprinted across the floor to where nurses and a physician had surrounded an unconscious Geraldine in her mother’s arms.

<<Chapter 21 || Chapter 23>>

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