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Chapter 44

"Her eyes gave her away. There was a drowning girl behind that smile."
~Atticus


Everly

"Come in, come in!" I said, moving aside to let Lorraine in. She waddled inside, cradling her belly. "I'm so glad you decided to come."

"I am too. I don't think I realized how much girl time I needed until I remembered the last time I hung out with my friends, which was right around the time I got with Will," Lorraine admitted, plopping down at my table. I moved over to the kitchen, grabbing something to drink for the two of us. "Not going to lie, I'm surprised you asked me to hang out."

"I know we haven't been close since you got with Will, but I think that needs to change since we're going to be sisters-in-law." I sat down next to her. "So, where do we start? I mean, we haven't really talked to each other in what? Five or six years?"

"Something like that," Lorraine said. "How are you doing with the baby?"

I cradled my own protruding belly. "I love him with all my heart, but I cannot wait for him to be in the world and out of my stomach. I'd like to sleep on my stomach again and eat some damn sweet and sour chicken. I miss eating what I want most of all. Any food you miss?"

"Oh, I ate pretty healthy before I became pregnant, so there's not much I'm missing out on."

"You're so lucky. Do you know how hard it was to cut out wine? I swear, I'm not alcoholic, but I liked a nice glass of wine with dinner, you know? At least Mark is still into me and isn't turned off by my massive stomach."

"Really?"

"Oh yeah. Dates every week, and he's helping me decorate the nursery. It's going to be so cute when it's done! What about you and Will? What do you two do to keep the romance alive?" I prodded, knowing fully-well what the truth was. I just wanted to see what she would say.

"Not many dates. Will's been incredibly busy with running the kingdom now that his dad has stepped back from the spotlight. Plus, my skin is super sensitive."

Okay, so she's saying mostly the same thing as Will…

"How have your ultrasound appointments gone? You had one yesterday, right?"

"Yeah. Baby Hannah is doing well."

"What time was it?"

"Two. Why?"

"Funny, I swear saw you out shopping in town yesterday at that time. I even took a picture because the resemblance was so striking. Here!" I pulled up the photo on my phone and showed it to her: a full frontal of her face. There was no way Lorraine could talk her way out of this, and if she tried, I had a mound of evidence against her.

Lorraine blanched. "Wow. That girl really does look like me."

"She lives in your building too. I didn't think you had any roommates?"

"I don't. Everly, I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at? How do you know she lives in my building?"

"I think it's time you tell me what's really going on with you and your pregnancy," I said shortly.

Lorraine stood up. "If this is an interrogation-"

"Sit your ass down," I growled. She sat immediately, staring at me with wide eyes. I tossed down each piece of damning information in front of her. "I'm very protective of Will. He's my cousin, and I consider him a brother more than anything. I would do anything to protect him and the Crown from people who wish to use him. I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt since we used to be friends and because he seemed happy with you. I even tried to overlook how horribly you manipulated Will, and how you drove a wedge between him and Annalise, and how you blamed her for something she didn't do. But after these last couple of months, based on the work of a private investigator, my own investigation, and some tidbits of information I've gathered from other people, I've come to a dreadful conclusion. I know the truth, Lorraine, and I'm giving you one chance and one chance only to come clean. If you don't, I'm going straight to Will with my information."

"I'm not pregnant!" Lorraine blurted, covering her face with her hands.

"You're seriously going to-" I stopped short. "Wait, just like that? You're not even going to try and lie your way out?"

"I don't see any reason to. It's obvious you have all the information you need." Lorraine wiped a… was that a tear? "I'm sure you think I'm a horrible person, and I know I am. I feel like shit for what I've done to both Will and Annalise, but I didn't do this willingly."

I narrowed my eyes at her. "What are you talking about?"

"A long time ago, as I'm sure you know, the Wards and the Briars were competing for the throne." I nodded, but I honestly forgot Will's last name was also Ward. I never used his last name, so it was easy for it to slip from memory. "I'm a descendant of the Briars, and there's been a longtime rage in my family that the Wards were chosen instead of us. For the longest time, they've been plotting to get us back on the throne, but either a kid was too old or too young or the wrong gender to marry the future ruler until-"

"Until you came along," I finished.

Lorraine nodded, wiping her nose. "My dad… he jumped at the opportunity and has been grooming me for this position my entire life. My mom isn't in the picture. She… she supposedly killed herself when my sister and I were little. I don't think she did. I think my dad needed her out of the picture because she didn't like what he was doing to me and posed a threat to his goals."

"What do you mean?" I asked, sitting back down. "I didn't know you had a sister."

"There's a reason you don't know about Corrine… To start from the beginning, my mom didn't want dad grooming me for the throne and forcing me to marry someone, but he wouldn't hear of it. They argued all the time, and then one day, I came home from school, and the police were there, along with EMTs rolling a body bag out of our house. The autopsy said she overdosed on her depression medication. Dad cried for the police and the cameras, but inside, it was business as usual. That was when I began to mistrust him, but if I didn't listen, he'd beat Corrine or me. I didn't care if dad did anything to me, but I didn't want him doing anything to Corrine, and he did. He didn't want to mess up my 'perfect face and skin,' so if I did anything wrong, he'd beat her up instead. I learned to obey and do as I was told."

"You never told anyone?"

"No. I had no one I could trust, and dad's ex-Veronian military and intelligence. I was terrified if he ever found out that I told someone, he'd do something much worse than beating Corrine up. So I became the dutiful daughter. I aced my studies, got into the same school as you, and-"

"Befriended me?"

"I was ordered to get close to you because dad said you were my ticket to Will. It took a while, but it turned out he was right," Lorraine said, grabbing a tissue from her purse and blowing her nose. "When it didn't happen in college, dad was livid and gave Corrine the worst beating I'd ever seen. She couldn't talk or walk or see, and I remember pleading with him to stop, but the more I begged, the more he did, so I sat in the corner and cried and waited until he was done. Then I took care of her and bandaged up her wounds."

"How has this been hidden? I mean, with you in the spotlight and-"

"Like I said, my dad is former military and special intelligence. He knows how to keep things hidden. Corrine left the moment she could escape. She's somewhere overseas in a remote town. I helped her escape and paid hell for it, but I thought it was worth it until I discovered he's keeping tabs on every single thing she does. If I tell her, he'll know, and he'll hurt her, and I can't… I can't…" Lorraine broke down into sobs, and I sat there, stupefied. Her tears appeared real, and while I hated what she'd done, I also couldn't find a reason to hate her for it. Not right now. "He has a gun to Corrine's head, and she doesn't even know it, and I'm scared I'm the only thing between her and him. My dad's not afraid to take out anyone in the way of his goal. To be honest, I was scared he would go after Annalise because everyone knows Will worships the ground she walks on. It's why I manipulated him and drove them apart. It's one thing to have her alive and them not speaking; it's another to have her dead. It'd destroy Will. Believe it or not, I really did want to get to know her. She seems amazing."

"Lorraine-" I began, trailing off when I couldn't think of the words to say. So many mixed emotions coursed through me that I didn't know where to start at first. Then the major question popped into my head. "The pregnancy… how did you fake it?"

"Will was so safe about everything, and I had to take drastic measures. I got him drunk and spiked his drink a little while after Annalise left. He has no memory of it, and we didn't do anything. I honestly sat and cried next to him while he was blacked out. That way, I could say I was pregnant a little while later, and he wouldn't bat an eye. I've been wearing this fake baby belly to act like it. I was going to pretend I lost it later on in a miscarriage or something." Lorraine buried her face into her hands again, her body shaking violently with sobs. "Oh, god! What have I done?!"

"Okay, the first thing we need to do is tell Will. I'll go with you. But everything you just told me, you have to tell him. It's a matter of national security, do you understand me?" I asked, my tone firm yet gentle.

Lorraine nodded. "I should've come clean a long time ago, but all I could think about was my sister, and I-"

"You don't have to explain it to me. I get it. Once you collect yourself, we'll touch up your makeup and head to the palace. We don't want the paparazzi spreading rumors before we need them to."

"O-okay," Lorraine said shakily, standing up. "And Everly? Thank you for being so understanding. I know it wasn't easy when you hate me."

"I don't-"

"You don't have to lie. I hate myself right now."

I ran my hand through my hair. "We're going to have to verify your story, and if you really are telling the truth, then I'll be the one apologizing to you. I had no idea."

"You couldn't have known, but I'm really glad you figured it out and gave me the kick in the ass I needed," Lorraine said, wiping the tears off her cheeks. She took a few deep, calming breaths. "Let me fix my makeup, and I'll be ready."

I watched her pull out some foundation and mascara from her purse, and I simply sat and watched, wondering how bad this shitstorm was going to be.

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