Though she enjoyed the extra attention, Joselyn was beginning to miss her mother. The Teka women and Yelena had done all they could to keep her occupied through the night and half the morning but Joselyn had noticed her mother’s absence and began crying.

Yelena kissed the wet cheek of her inconsolable granddaughter and bounced her on her hip. “Just a little longer, cariño.”

Darah stifled a yawn. “He’s been in there a long time.”

“They’ve got a lot to talk about,” Phoebe answered, giving the teenager a smile. “If you’re tired and ready to leave, take Abe home with you.”

Darah snorted. “Like he’ll leave without you. I’ll stay and come back with Bart and Geri.”

Phoebe shook her head but didn’t have time to protest when Abe strolled back to the bench, phone in hand. “J.R. dropped off your in-laws back at the house, said they were reasonably subdued.”

“It’s an act,” Yelena muttered begrudgingly. “Those two have been deceiving people for years.”

Phoebe clucked her tongue in disapproval. “I just cannot believe that isn’t illegal.”

“No one had the guts to rat them out,” Yelena answered, bouncing Joselyn when she whimpered for her mother. “Our parents didn’t understand the danger of get-rich-quick schemes, and by the time we discovered, it was too late.”

“But if they planned to receive governmental money illegally, shouldn’t the government get involved?” Darah asked Abe, earning quizzical looks from everyone. She frowned. “What? I’m not a child anymore.”

Abe snorted. “Didn’t think you heard a thing we said while you were busy staring a hole into J.R.’s face.”

“I was not!” Stained cheeks against her light complexion betrayed embarrassment. “Don’t lie!”

“But am I lying though?”

“You are, big liar!”

Phoebe bit a laugh and averted her attention to Joselyn who was now staring from brother to sister. She smiled wistfully and looked up to Yelena watching her. “They’re always like this.”

Yelena merely nodded and watched the exchange between the siblings.

“Well, you’re too young to like anyone,” Abe grumbled, pocketing his phone.

Darah sputtered. “Like who? That old man?”

Phoebe’s giggle escaped. “Darah, he’s only twenty-five.”

“Like I said, he’s old.” Darah scowled and crossed her arms.

“But that’s just a few years between Bart and Junior, Darah.”

Abe scowled at his wife. “Don’t encourage her, Phoebe.”

Phoebe gave her husband a dimpled smile. “She’s old enough to like anyone she wants, darling.”

Darah scoffed. “I said I don’t like him.”

“Good,” Abe replied. “Because you’re not allowed to like anyone until you’re thirty.”

“Thirty?!” Yelena, Phoebe and Darah exclaimed, gaping at Abe.

The door of Geraldine’s room opened and everyone turned to see Bart stepping out. A pensive expression tightened his features as he closed the door.

Abe walked over. “What did she say?”

Bart looked up at his brother and then glanced over his shoulder to the three standing there. He frowned. “Where’s J.R.?”

“He dropped off Geri’s in-laws at home.  Left early because of a court case tomorrow. What did she say?”

He exhaled a harsh breath. “It’s bad.”

Abe put a hand over his brother’s shoulder. “Breathe.”

“I am breathing.” Bart’s voice shook.

“Breathe again.”

Bart closed his eyes briefly and drew in a breath, releasing it slowly.

“Barty?” Yelena spoke at Abe’s shoulder. When the brothers looked her way, she gestured to the door. “May we go in?”

“Please do,” Abe said, steering Bart to the side so the mother and child could enter the room. Once the door was shut, he returned his attention to Bart. “You okay?”

“No.” Bart sighed heavily and his eyes swung back to Abe. “I’m angry.”

“What did she say, Bart?”

Bart swallowed hard. “Their business isn’t just a family business. It’s got investors, local and federal. Even high officials are benefitting from slave labor. Geraldine mentioned a meeting the day he… pushed her down the stairs.”

Phoebe gasped inwardly, attracting her husband’s alarmed gaze. She waved him off. “I’m fine. What kind of meeting, Bart?”

“Investors coming to collect.” Bart shrugged. “He didn’t have enough money to give them, so they threatened to oust him for his fraud. Maybe the fool thought to siphon from the government and they got rid of him.”

This time it was Darah who gasped. Phoebe pulled her close, though her attention remained on the two men. “You’re saying his death might have not been an accident?”

“Greed killed him,” Bart grumbled, a scowl forming. “A business like that should be done away with. Slavery in this day and age? Unbelievable.”

“Then don’t we still have slavery since lots of people are in debt here too?” Darah piped in, earning a solemn look from her sister-in-law. “What can we do for Geraldine? Her evil in-laws won’t leave her alone.”

“We’ve gotta expose them for what they are,” Bart answered without hesitation. “One word about reporting them and the government might cut ties with them too.”

“I don’t think it’s that simple, Bart.” Abe sighed heavily. “If their son wasn’t reason enough to cut ties, what could one woman’s testimony do?”

“Not just one,” Bart muttered, holding up a beat up phone. “Twenty.”

Abe frowned. “What?”

“Before asking for a divorce, Geraldine had received support from families who like hers had been subjected to slavery by debt. After the husband died mysteriously, the families suddenly wanted to rescind their testimonies.”

“They were afraid of the government coming after them?”

“No doubt.” Bart sighed heavily. “She and Yelena sought out the widows and disabled war veterans to get their support. Her in-laws caught wind of her ideas and threatened to take her unborn child…”

“Those demons,” Phoebe hissed. “They should pay for their crimes.”

“They will,” Bart vowed. “Which is why I must speak with J.R. now.”

“He won’t be able to do much from American soil,” Abe cautioned, handing his phone to Bart.

“But he’ll point me in the right direction.” Bart collected the phone and strolled back into the room, closing the door.

Phoebe shook her head in awe. “Doesn’t he remind you of someone?”

Darah frowned. “Who?”

“Abe.” She smiled at her husband who turned at the sound of his wife’s voice. “When your parents died, he took full responsibility of you all without hesitation, just like Bart is doing now for Geri.”

“For one who vehemently avoids dramatic situations, he’s doing pretty well,” Abe added, walking up to them. “Even if he had a slow start.”

“He’s in love,” Darah said with a grin.

Abe arched a brow at his sister. “And what do you know about love? Don’t even consider any of that until you’re old enough.”

Darah rolled her eyes and Phoebe giggled, nudging her husband to relax.

Geraldine was released early the next morning and since her in-laws still resided in her home, she didn’t hesitate accepting Phoebe’s offer to recover fully at their house.

J.R. rushed to the Teka home after his case the next day. He wore a blinding smile that encouraged everyone once he entered the house. “We’re in luck.”

Everyone sat up, waiting with baited breaths.

He carelessly took the empty spot beside Darah but none of them noticed, too distracted with the news he brought. “A friend of mine from law school has an uncle whose cousin’s wife’s brother is a civil lawyer in Peru.”

The entire house sat in silence, mulling through the complicated triangle.

“I spoke with him yesterday, the lawyer, and he said he can help us.”

“Oh good,” Phoebe breathed out, everyone’s shoulders sagging.

“I’ll be flying over during the weekend to meet with him.” His eyes moved over Geraldine. “He wants to meet with you and your mom. He thinks we can go to court once he’s heard the full story and gathered the evidence needed.”

Geraldine looked to Bart who placed a hand over hers and turned to face J.R. “Can I come with them?”

J.R. hesitated, having not planned for more than three to accompany him on this short trip overseas.

“Maybe you should stay,” Geraldine spoke up, attracting everyone’s attention. She had eyes only for Bart. “I want to do this and come back to you free.”

Bart didn’t look thrilled. “We can come back with you free even if I go.”

Geraldine shook her head. “You’ve got things to prepare for.”

“Things…?” Bart frowned.

Geraldine looked over his shoulder at Darah, giving her a pointed stare. “Important things.”

“Oh right!” Darah shot to her feet. “I forgot. We’ve got a wedding to plan.”

Bart blinked at Geraldine who smiled. “Wait, what?”

Geraldine smiled. “When I come back, Bartimeus, let’s get married.”

“Wait, are you proposing to him?” Clement asked with a smile in his voice.

Phoebe and Darah grinned from ear to ear. Abe sat watching Bart with a perturbed expression.

Bart’s eyes widened. Geraldine squeezed his hand. “Well, Mr. Bartimeus Teka, is that a yes?”

“No.” Then he tugged his hand from hers, expression unreadable.

Phoebe and Darah gasped. Clement groaned as Bart stood and stormed off.

Abe and Clement exchanged glances, then stood and went after their brother.

Phoebe moved to take Bart’s seat beside Geraldine who looked like she’d been punched in the gut. She placed her hand over the woman’s shoulder, not knowing what to say.

Hands at her hips, Darah scowled. “That overgrown fool.”

“It’s okay,” Geraldine managed to say. “It’s fine.”

Phoebe heaved a sigh.

Geraldine sighed also. “We’ll be ready to leave.”

“Geri, no!” Darah protested with a shout.

Ignoring both Darah and Phoebe, she stared at J.R. who looked uncomfortable in his seat. “When can we leave?”

<<Chapter 23 || Chapter 25>>

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