Hearts Desires

Hearts Desires by Deidre Dalton is Book #6 in the Collective Obsessions Saga.


Shannon's son Jamie Page begins to understand his lifelong yearnings but fears his family will never accept them. His first love affair with a nefarious character nearly costs his life, but brings to light his hidden desires. Happiness continues to elude the family, as if a dark shadow of evil has settled over the family estate.

From Chapter Fifteen

June 2000

Larkin City, Maine


AFTER DINNER, JAMIE WALKED up to the mansion with Foofer to find Brose and Angie. He needed to confide in someone, to share what happened to him in Larkin City that afternoon. He thought about his mother first, but then decided he didn't want to involve her. She fretted about him as it was, and he didn't want to add to her worries. Talking to his father about the rumors, whether true or false, was not an option.

Brose was in the drawing room with Bridget. The couple was enjoying a glass of wine together and talking quietly. When Foofer bounded into the room excitedly, Bridget held out her arms and hugged the dog as he licked her face.

"That mutt likes you better than me," Brose noted. "When did that happen?"

"When you weren't looking," Bridget teased.

"Where's Angie?" Jamie asked.

"She went to the study to find a book to read," Brose answered. "She'll be right back."

"Good. I need to talk to all of you."

"What's up, runt?"

Before Jamie could respond, Angie came into the drawing room with a book in her hand. She was delighted to see her brother. "What a nice surprise!" she exclaimed, embracing him. "I thought you'd be busy at the shelter tonight."

"Under normal circumstances I would be," Jamie said. "Can I talk to you guys for a minute?"

"Want some wine?" Brose offered.

"Yeah, a big glass, please."

After they were seated and Foofer settled at his master's feet, Jamie told them about his visit from Kit Bathers three months ago, and then about events occurring that afternoon.

"I haven't heard the rumors," Bridget declared. "I work with different sorts of people all day long at HVC, and I haven't heard anything."

"The subject of rumors is the last to know," Brose told her. "In this case, it includes Jamie and the rest of us."

Angie was furious. "How can Bathers think he'll get away with this? We should start some rumors of our own, about him. Let's fight fire with fire, for God's sake."

"Then it will never end," Jamie disagreed. "The rumor mill will continue to churn if we feed it."

"The hell with it," Brose said, annoyed. "Let the rumor mill churn, Jamie. Who gives a damn what a handful of people think, anyway?"

Jamie blushed. "I do, Brose. The animal shelter is a community effort, and now people think it's managed by a pervert. Mind you, I'm not ashamed of who I am or of my sexual orientation, but we can't control how others react. It's an unfortunate fact of life that not all people are so tolerant."

"This is the year 2000," Angie said angrily. "Homosexuality shouldn't even be an issue anymore. Yet people continue to point fingers, considering it scandalously immoral or a reason to dismiss someone entirely. I don't understand the mentality. Are they living in the dark ages?"

"I don't want to engage in a debate," Jamie said firmly. "But I do want to find some way to resolve this. Caving in to Kit Bathers' demands is out of the question, and I also don't want to contribute to the rumor mill. I can let it slide and hope for the best, or do something to counteract the gossip."

"Like what?" Bridget wanted to know.

"That's why I'm here," Jamie replied. "I was hoping one of you might have a suggestion."

"I still say ignore it and carry on," Brose muttered crossly. "Maybe one of these days I'll come across Kit Bathers in a dark alley and rearrange his thinking."

Bridget rolled her eyes. "That won't help, Brose. You can't solve every problem with your fists."

"Do you have a better idea?" he groused.

She hesitated, glancing to Jamie. "I think I do, but it's rather drastic."

"Tell me," Jamie urged.

"If you got married, no one would think twice about the rumors."

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" Brose exploded. "Jamie getting married to stave off local scuttlebutt is beyond drastic. It's crazy. Why should he have to compromise his entire life, his future, just to satisfy the small cluster of bigots in Larkin City? Marriage under normal circumstances is a big step, but to enter into it under false pretenses for no good reason is outrageous."

Angie was aghast. "I agree. Besides, what woman in her right mind would marry you just for the sake of it?" She looked at her brother, noticing the thoughtful expression on his face. Her eyes widened. "Don't tell me you're considering Bridget's idea?"

"Getting married wouldn't compromise my future," Jamie said. "Think about it. I could have a short-lived marriage and get divorced later, after the rumors were put to rest. I might have to pay someone to do it, under confidentiality restrictions of course, but what difference does it make? I could have my cake and eat it, too. And it would stifle Kit Bathers right proper."

"I have another idea," Angie's voice was cold. "Let's expose Kit Bathers for the blackmailer he is and sue him for slander. He as much threatened you in your office if you didn't vote his way in the next election, Jamie. Political corruption would blacken his name in Larkin City forever."

"I don't want a long, drawn out legal battle," Jamie told her. "And it will be hard to prove. Only me and Kit were privy to our discussion, and how can we verify he was the one who started the rumors? No matter what we do there will always be a shadow of doubt in some people's minds, but there is nothing I can do about that."

Angie sighed in frustration. She knew her brother had been depressed since Jack Sansovino disappeared from Larkin City, despite what the man did to him. It was as if he was just going through the motions of daily living. She had a feeling he would jump at any excuse to get his life to a different place, even if it meant marrying someone for convenience.

"I can see you've made up your mind," Angie finally relented. "That being said, who do you propose as the first and probably only Mrs. Jamie Page?"

"Don't look at me," Bridget said quickly. She glanced sideways at Brose. "I'm sort of spoken for."

"There's only one person really," Jamie said slowly. "Only one person who understands the situation, and knows me well."

"Désirée Sansovino," Angie guessed.

"How'd you know?" Jamie asked his sister.

"The woman worships the ground you walk on," Angie responded cryptically. "It might not be obvious to you, but it's glaringly apparent to the rest of us. She'll probably jump at the chance to marry you, in name only or not."

"Do you really think so?" Jamie asked innocently, yet Angie was not fooled. She knew it was Jamie's intention all along to validate his plan with family members. He truly cared about Désirée, just like a sister. He missed her presence, her easy acceptance of his lifestyle. In twisted fashion, she was also the last remaining link Jamie had to Jack. The man may have beaten Jamie senseless and raped him to boot, but there was lingering affection not be denied. By marrying Désirée, Jamie could squelch ugly rumors and keep warped ties to Jack in one fell swoop. It would also make Kit Bathers appear the loser.

"Marrying Désirée will explain Jack away," Brose said impatiently. "But I don't think it's worth giving up your life for. You are what you are, Jamie, and you shouldn't have to apologize for it. There's nothing wrong with you. My best advice is to ignore the rumors and get on with it." He gazed at his cousin with sadness. "But like Angie, I can see you've already made up your mind. Just know, whatever your decision we'll stand by you."

"Thank you," Jamie murmured. "I think it's time I took a trip to Little Italy and had a serious talk with Désirée."

Angie shook her head. "I never thought I'd see the day when I had a sister-in-law. Brother-in-law, maybe."

"Don't count your chickens," Jamie warned. "Désirée hasn't agreed yet."

Angie snorted. "I have no doubts whatsoever. I guarantee by summer's end, we'll be welcoming a new member to the family."

June 2000

Little Italy, New York


IT WAS HOT IN New York that June, easily passing the hundred-degree mark for several days running. The sun shone brightly in the sky with little cloud cover, casting an unbearable scorch of heat into the plentiful concrete. There were sporadic brown-outs throughout the city as people tried to keep cool by running their air conditioners, placing a heavy burden on the power grid.

Désirée worked from early morning until ten o'clock at night, baking fresh Ciabatta bread and Grissini, along with serving deli customers at Sansovino's Italian Market. Summer was an exceptionally busy time for the family, bringing a typical influx of tourists. Many of them were keen to see Little Italy and other famous sites, the Statue of Liberty among them. Having food and drink on offer was always a lure, promising healthy profits before day's end.

There was a brief lull after the lunch crowd, so Désirée took the opportunity to sit at one of the tables to enjoy a glass of iced tea. Her uniform of black slacks and pink blouse clung to her damp flesh, and she welcomed the slight breeze coming from a ceiling fan. The heavy make-up she wore on her face had been slowly melting for the last hour, and she was sure she looked a sight. Taking a handful of paper napkins from the table dispenser, she dabbed at her face and under her eyes.

"You look great no matter what you do," she heard a voice. Glancing up, she saw Jamie Page standing by the table, a wide smile on his face. He appeared cool as a cucumber in white slacks and cranberry-colored short-sleeved shirt. He was clean-shaven and bright-eyed, and certainly a sight for her tired eyes.

Désirée jumped up and hugged Jamie tightly. "I never expected to see you here in a million years," she exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming to New York? I would've tried to get a few days off."

"I wanted to surprise you," he said, returning her embrace. "I was long overdue a visit, anyway. Can you get away for a few minutes?"

"Most definitely," she replied. She looked to the deli counter, catching the curious eyes of a prep server. "Carlos, watch the counter for me, will you? I'm taking a break."

She turned back to Jamie. "There's a bodega up the street that sells shaved cherry ice. Why don't we go there?"

"Sounds lovely."

Désirée grasped his arm as they left the deli. "You're such a sight for sore eyes. I was just sitting there, feeling sorry for myself in the boiling heat. You've definitely made my day a lot brighter."

"Glad to be of service," he joked.

They ordered cold ices at the bodega counter, and then took seats on the sidewalk. A small umbrella shielded them from the sun. Désirée felt herself relax for the first time in days.

"How long are you in town for?" she asked as she scooped bits of cherry ice into her mouth.

"Just a few days," he replied. He looked at her intently, setting his shaved ice on the table. "I need to ask you a huge favor."

"You know I'll do anything for you, Jamie. What is it?"

He gave a half-laugh. "This isn't your run-of-the-mill favor, Désirée. What I'm about to ask might offend you."

"I doubt it, but go ahead."

"Will you marry me?" he blurted out, watching her face closely for reaction.

She choked on a cough, spitting out a cherry-red fleck of ice. He reached over and thumped her on the back. "Are you okay?" he asked anxiously. "Désirée?"

She recovered quickly from the coughing spell, her eyes watering from the effort. She finally found her voice. "How is marrying you a favor, Jamie? I'd marry you any day of the week, you must know that, but how is it a favor?"

"I have a lot of explaining to do," he confessed. "Will you bear with me?"

She nodded, her eyes on his face.

Jamie told her about his run-in with Kit Bathers, and the resulting spread of rumors in Larkin City. "I could probably ride out the storm," he said. "But it's like allowing Bathers to win. If I turn around and get married, it will offset the rumors and let me carry on my work without whispers and stares." He looked down at his lap. "I'm ashamed to say my reputation means a great deal to me, even at the expense of living my life the way I see fit. It's just a temporary arrangement, a few years at the most, and I'll make sure you're adequately compensated."

Désirée stared at him open-mouthed. "Let me get this straight. You want me to marry you to deflect local busy bodies, and you'll pay me for doing it?"

He nodded. "That about sums it up." He paused, searching her face. He looked so earnest that her heart skipped a beat. "It's more than that, though. You know how much I care about you, Désirée. Aside from Brose and my sister, you're my best friend. I hope we can always be friends, even after marriage and divorce. I'd never ask you such a major favor if it wasn't so important to me. I don't want to see my livelihood and reputation go up in smoke because of a mayor-wanna-be with a big chip on his shoulder."

She gazed at him in wonder. To Jamie, he was asking a life-altering favor that he already felt guilty about. To Désirée, it was a life-saving bolt of good fortune. If she agreed to his plan, she'd be delivered from the daily grind of the family delicatessen and out from under the watchful and often critical eyes of her parents. She was more than half-in-love with Jamie anyway, so marrying him certainly wouldn't be a hardship. It was almost too good to be true.

"What happens if we get married?" she wanted to know, her voice quiet for a change. "Would I come to Larkin City to live?"

"Of course," he replied, his hopes rising. "You'd live with me at the cottage, albeit in a separate bedroom. You'll be my wife in every way except physical. You can spend your days at leisure or get a job if you like. Money is not a worry. At the end of a few years, we'll get a quiet divorce and continue to be friends. I'll give you a generous settlement, and then you'll be free to go and do as you please. I know it sounds almost too simple, but I can't see any reason why it won't work."

"Women would kill to hear what you just offered me," Désirée said. "Live without money worries? Do as I please? Are you kidding? I've been miserable for so many years, living with my parents and working my fingers to the bone in that damned deli. To top it off, you're the most gorgeous man I've ever laid eyes on." She grinned. "Talk about rumors, will you? I'll be the envy of every woman in Larkin City."

His eyes lit up. "Are you saying yes? You'll marry me?"

She leaned over and planted a kiss on his lips. "I'm saying yes, Jamie. Yes, yes, yes!" She held his face in her hands, gazing at him with shining eyes. "Penso che ti amo, Giacomo. I think I love you, Jamie."

He smiled, touched by her words. "We'd better go find your parents," he said gravely. "I need to ask Mario for your hand in marriage."



HEARTS DESIRES ©Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved.

"Hearts Desires" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Hearts Desires" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.