Last Time: Appius sighed and took a drink of his scotch. He was playing a dangerous game with the unstable woman in front of him. The good news was that she had practically already convinced herself that Eric was the father of her child, which would help immensely when she had to face Eric—and the cameras. The bad news was that Eric might not go along with things; Appius, however, was hopeful that his son had been broken enough to grasp at anything tangible that might give him any modicum of happiness, and a child—even with someone as unstable as Freyda—would do just that. Appius was betting on his eldest son’s honor.
However, if nothing else, Appius was determined to sabotage all of his son’s relationships until the time when he was 35. After that, it wouldn’t matter. If Eric were unmarried by 35, Appius would be allowed—under the terms of the contract—to choose Eric’s wife. And—even if it didn’t turn out to be Freyda—he would choose someone who he could control and someone who would make Eric miserable.
Appius smiled. Freyda was bound to complicate things for Eric, and—if the little lip-reader who still eluded him was paying any attention—the situation would hurt her too. Appius’s smile widened. He had a lot to be happy about. After all, he was going to be a grandfather soon.
Bobby sighed deeply as he parked his car, grateful for the little squeeze that Thalia gave his hand. He was certainly man enough to admit that he needed her with him. Not only was she a comfort, but she was also the best sounding board he knew—and the smartest person.
Soon after they’d seen the newspaper that morning, he and Thalia had driven to Niall’s home. And they had not been the only ones.
Bobby wasn’t surprised to see Claudine and Desmond Cataliades as he led Thalia into Niall’s office. But he had been surprised to see that Elsa was still there. She’d been planning to return to Sweden the day after the wedding. Bobby looked at her and then at Niall. Unusually, his great-uncle seemed to be avoiding Bobby’s eyes, and there was a subtle touch of pink to his cheeks. Bobby looked back at Elsa, from whom he received a quirked brow and an unapologetic smirk.
“You are too observant for your own good, Bobby Burnham,” Elsa chuckled by way of greeting.
Niall cleared his throat and turned to face the room. “You might as well all know that Elsa and I are now keeping company with one another.”
Elsa’s lips twitched upward. “Yes. So I have decided to extend my stay—at least until the baby comes.”
Claudine giggled, “Way to go, Gramps.”
Niall’s cheeks went even more noticeably red, but instead of chastising his granddaughter, he winked and smiled at her. “I know.”
Everyone in the room chuckled until all of their eyes fell onto the muted television. Immediately, Niall turned up the volume.
With disbelief, they all watched the grainy footage of Eric and Freyda in Eric’s bedroom. They could clearly make out Eric getting into the bed where she lay. And then the image picked back up—after a content warning from the newscaster. The picture showed Eric and Freyda having sex in a place where Bobby knew that Eric had never invited the unstable woman.
Of course, the leaked sex-tape had immediately become a scandal, and within an hour, the gossip was “news” as New York’s morning programs picked up and commented on the story. Half an hour later, “news” teams and paparazzi were stationed outside of the Edgington estate, hoping to get a statement from Isabel or Russell about Eric’s apparent infidelity. The so-called reporters were having a field-day talking about the high-society love triangle, especially given the fact that it involved three of New York’s most prominent families: the Northmans, the Edgingtons, and the de Castros.
After all—who didn’t like seeing the rich fall?
As everyone who was gathered in Niall’s library looked on warily, the reporter promised that an “exclusive interview” with Freyda de Castro was coming up after the commercial break. They all held their breaths.
“Is there any way at all this could be true?” Cataliades asked with regret in his voice that he’d been the one to vocalize the question.
“No,” Bobby said quickly. “Freyda has never been into Eric and Sookie’s home—and Eric would certainly not take her into the bedroom. No one but Sookie has been there.”
“The time stamp on the video is from the day that Eric went to Manhattan,” Niall said, though he managed to keep the accusation out of his voice. “And there are other images of him going in and out of his building through a side entrance.”
Bobby sighed. “I know. We allowed Franklin to get a look at us that day.”
“Did you stay with Eric at his house while he was there?” Elsa asked.
Bobby shook his head. “No. I went home for a few hours to finish drafting the prenuptial agreement that Eric and Sookie wanted.” Eric hadn’t wanted for Appius to be able to get anywhere near Sookie’s fortune.
Mr. Cataliades sighed and once more asked the question that they were all reticent to even consider. “Is there any way?”
“No!” Bobby answered, this time much more sternly. Everyone in the room looked at each other, and all shook their heads to confirm Bobby’s words.
“Then the footage has been altered,” the lawyer said.
Bobby nodded. “It has to have been.” He took his phone out and sent a quick text. “I’ll get a copy of the tape from a contact of mine at this station,” he said, gesturing toward the logo of the local FOX affiliate on the television screen.
“Good,” Niall said.
They all turned back to the screen as the promised interview with Freyda began.
The so-called journalist looked at the brunette sympathetically. “Miss de Castro, thank you so much for joining us today to give us your reaction to the footage that was first shown on late last night. I know that this has been quite an ordeal for you, and our viewers appreciate your telling us your side.”
“Thanks for having me on your program,” Freyda said. Her eyes looked puffy as if she’d been crying. However, she was dressed in a beautiful cream colored suit and her hair was in a perfect and somewhat demure bun.
The reporter gave Freyda the opening to tell her story “in her own words,” and immediately Freyda was off to the races. She indicated first how sorry she was where Isabel Edgington was concerned, but she claimed that a love as strong as hers and Eric’s couldn’t—in the end—be denied. Next, Freyda confirmed that she and Eric were indeed the couple in the “sex-tape.” She cried a little as she explained her feelings of betrayal that someone had taped such “a private, intimate, and loving moment” between her and Eric. She threatened to sue whomever was guilty of making the recording and then publicizing the footage. And she assured that neither she nor Eric had been responsible for the tape.
The reporter asked if she had any idea how the footage had been taken, and Freyda speculated that someone in Eric’s building may have put up the camera in his bedroom in order to capture the affair she and Eric were having in order to get a pay-off from the Paparazzi.
When the reporter asked if she knew anything about Eric’s reaction to the tape, Freyda broke down into tears again—telling of Eric’s “breakdown.” She claimed that Eric could no longer take the strain of denying his love for her nor the guilt of cheating on Isabel. She said that he was currently out of Manhattan “seeking treatment.” However, she vowed that she was going to stand by Eric no matter what. And then she dropped her real bombshell. She announced that she and Eric were expecting “their first child.”
As soon as the interview had ended, there was a collective sigh in the room.
“Should I go get them?” Bobby asked.
“No,” Elsa said firmly. “Eric and Sookie will be back in two days anyway. Let’s give them that time and try to figure out what’s going on in the meantime.”
Bobby gave Elsa a little smile. Eric’s mormor truly was an amazing and strong woman.
Niall sighed. “Okay—so we need to figure out how to prove that the tape is a fake. And—if Freyda is indeed pregnant—we’ll just get a DNA test to show that Eric’s not the father.”
“This has Appius written all over it,” Bobby growled. “He’s the one with the video feed.” Quickly, he dialed his phone. “Henry?” he said when his call was picked up. There was a pause as Henry said something—a very loud something. He’d obviously seen Freyda’s interview too. “No—I’m at Niall’s right now, and nobody here believes what Freyda said either. But the footage does put her in Eric’s house.”
There was another pause.
“Yes. Do that,” Bobby said. “And go up to the house and look at Eric’s bedroom, and then call me back.”
“What are you thinking?” Thalia asked.
“I’m not sure. What confuses me most is how that footage of Freyda could exist. Eric’s bedroom was trashed the last time I was there, so that seems to indicate that the video was shot a while ago, but the time-stamp indicates the exact day Eric was last in Manhattan.”
“Time stamps can be altered,” Thalia said. “And even though Eric’s face is clear when he’s coming to the bed from the bathroom, once the image goes to them supposedly having sex, his face is no longer shown. All I could see was a tall, slender man with blond hair, but the darkness of the image and the fact that the man’s back is to the camera obscures who he is. And—the blanket covers most of his body too.”
Bobby nodded. “Yes. It’s the opening shot of Eric that sets up the context, and since the room is the same, it’s easy to assume that he’s the same blonde having sex with Freyda in the next shot.”
Bobby’s phone rang and he quickly answered it. He sighed loudly. “Okay. Can you and Blake check the house and see if any of the surveillance devices are still there.”
“Tell them to check for new ones too,” Thalia instructed.
“Did you hear that?” Bobby asked into the receiver. He nodded to Thalia. “Really?” he asked after a moment. “But how can that be?” There was a pause. “Okay—call me when you know more.” He hung up.
“So?” Niall asked.
“Eric’s room is pristine—seemingly exactly the same as it was before he destroyed it. We’ll need to check carefully for any differences, however. Maybe we can find discrepancies between the image of Eric coming into the room and the later image once we analyze the footage.”
Niall sat down into his desk chair heavily. “So you believe Appius manufactured all this with the intent of making Eric look like the father of Freyda’s child?”
“Yes—I do,” Bobby said. “If she’s pregnant, that is.”
“But that’s insanity!” Mr. Cataliades said.
“That’s Appius,” Elsa added with disdain.
“So,” Thalia speculated, “maybe Freyda found out she was pregnant and went to Appius for help.”
Bobby nodded. “That makes sense in a way, and Appius would have wanted to use her to his advantage.”
“I brought my laptop. I can start going through the footage I’ve been collecting from NP and see if there’s been any sign of Freyda there during the last few days,” Thalia said.
“Good idea,” Bobby responded. Since Sookie had almost lost the baby, she’d not been doing any more “readings” of Appius, but Thalia had still been gathering all the feeds that she could.
Claudine, who had been quiet up until that point, spoke softly. “The woman in that interview believed the words she was saying about the child being Eric’s.”
“There’s no way in hell Eric would cheat on Sookie—no way!” Bobby insisted.
Claudine rolled her eyes at her cousin. “I know that, you idiot,” she said snappily. “I’m not suggesting that I believe Freyda—only that Freyda believes Freyda.”
“So she’s delusional?” Elsa asked.
Claudine nodded. “Certifiable. From what Eric has told me and from what I know of her in general, I believe that she has obsessive tendencies. And—yes—she’s obviously delusional. And that means she’s potentially dangerous.”
“Does Eric have a history with this Freyda de Castro?” Elsa asked.
Bobby sighed. “A very brief one—about two and a half years ago.
“So their relationship happened before Sookie,” Elsa stated.
“Yes,” Bobby confirmed. “And—like I said—their involvement was extremely short-lived on Eric’s part: one or two encounters. Then, Eric sensed something was off about Freyda and told her that he didn’t want to have anything to do with her anymore. But she kept calling him. Eventually, she was caught stalking him. Things were pretty hushed up—thanks to her father—and she was shipped off to Europe.”
Elsa sat down heavily. “Why didn’t Eric tell me about this?”
Bobby’s eyebrow rose.
Elsa sighed and then answered her own question. “Because he’s never spoken openly of anything—especially not before Sookie.”
“I remember more,” Niall sighed. “Didn’t Freyda announce to the Press that she and Eric were engaged—a little less than two years ago?”
Elsa closed her eyes and sighed.
Claudine picked up the story. “Appius supplied Freyda with an easily recognizable ring that had been in the Northman family for generations. But Eric refused to go along with Appius’s plans, and he gave the Press recordings of some of the irrational messages Freyda had left for him.”
“But—even after that—Appius didn’t drop the idea of Eric marrying Freyda,” Bobby supplied.
“Why?” Niall mused, almost to himself.
“Why what?” Bobby asked.
Niall looked up at him. “I understand—given John’s Will—why Appius needs for Eric to become CEO of Northman Publishing; if Eric doesn’t, then Appius will lose almost everything. I also understand why he wanted the contract between them because it would help him to take some control over Eric.”
Bobby nodded. “It allowed Appius to seem to be the one pulling all the strings. It also allowed Appius to set a standard of success that Eric has to live up to.”
“Yes,” Niall said. “And Eric—for all intents and purposes—also gave up his right to any kind of inheritance.”
“From either side of his family,” Elsa sighed, having heard—like the others—about the contract as well as the codicil of John Northman’s Will.
“But why the part about Eric marrying?” Niall asked.
Bobby sighed. “I must admit that I have always wondered about that too. After all, Eric gave up the right to inherit anything from Appius, so he couldn’t pass NP down to his children anyway. And—lately—Appius seemed to have been pushing for Eric to marry Isabel, someone who could have potentially made him happy.”
“Obviously, if Appius is involved with Freyda’s machinations, then he’s changed his mind about giving Eric the chance to marry someone palatable,” Niall said wryly.
“Don’t you see?” Thalia asked.
“See what?” Bobby responded with confusion in his eyes.
“Appius is all about control,” Thalia answered. “And clearly, he’s decided that he wants to control not just who Eric marries, but also when. It’s a failsafe—a back-up plan.”
“In case Appius discovers that he cannot stomach the notion of allowing Eric to be CEO—after all,” Cataliades said with realization.
“Yes. Because if Appius backs out of their contract—after Eric is married—the wife would get half of any fortune or stock Appius had to forfeit to Eric,” Thalia said, “unless there was a prenuptial agreement to stop that from happening.”
“Which Appius wouldn’t allow,” Niall observed.
“And if Appius controls the woman, then he gets half of what he lost back,” Bobby said, realization hitting him as well. He looked at Thalia. “You really are brilliant,” he whispered as he bent down to kiss her cheek.
“I know.” She winked at him.
“And—as a bonus—Appius would get to use his influence to make Eric as miserable as possible—using his wife as a puppet,” Elsa sighed.
Bobby shook his head. “That’s probably why Appius once seemed to favor the idea of Eric getting together with Nora. She is loyal to him.”
“And Freyda is psychologically fragile enough to be easily manipulated by him as well,” Claudine said.
Bobby closed his eyes. “How far do you think she would go to try to entrap Eric?”
“Obviously, she is willing to fake a pregnancy,” Elsa observed.
“Or get pregnant for real,” Thalia added.
“But DNA testing will demonstrate that Eric’s not the father,” Desmond said reasonably.
The intercom on Niall’s desk sounded.
“What is it, Mikey?” Niall asked.
“Sorry to bother you, Niall,” the guard said, “but there’s a man here to see you.”
“Who is it?” Niall asked.
“His name’s Bill Compton, and he says he knows something about a faked video recording.”
Bobby exhaled heavily and looked at Niall. “You’d better let him in.”
A/N: Hello all! I hope you liked this chapter. Things are going to be heating up for our couple now. But—as many of you pointed out on your comments for the last chapter—Eric and Sookie definitely aren’t alone.
I have finished separating the rest of this story into chapters! There are 38 chapters and an epilogue (though remember that could shift one or two in either direction). Because I read the rest of the story again (and I’m happy w/ it—Yeah!), I’ll be able to get you chapters a bit faster when I’m working on this one—unless my attention moves elsewhere—like to the promo I want to write for Seph’s second banner writing challenge (look for it soon!).
By the way, in case you were wondering, Sookie and Eric are on a honeymoon. We’ll catch a glimpse of that in the next chapter—before the fit hits the shan.