"But you were at a reception with like a million people. You've got a rock-solid alibi, how can they possibly charge you?"
"They're not charging me with the murder itself," Emily said. Her voice was sardonic, as usual. "But they think it was part of a conspiracy to get his money, or something like that."
"How tawdry. So am I your jailhouse call?"
"No, I just got out on bail. Coming over to your place now. We need to talk about this off the phone lines."
Nolan scoffed. "Come on, Ems, if anyone's got a secure phone line, it's me."
"Yeah, I know," Emily said. "But still. Talk to you soon."
"I'll be waiting," he said, but she had already disconnected.
He was reading the charges against her when she came in. "Wow, one count of illegal possession of a firearm, one count of conspiracy to commit murder. This isn't going to look good on your permanent record."
"Hacked into the court database?" Emily asked, dropping her purse on a nearby counter. "Don't worry, this is all temporary."
"So you've already figured out how to wriggle out of it?"
"For the most part," Emily said. "There's something I want you to do for me."
Nolan looked away from the screen for a moment. Emily looked like she always did: put together, collected, with the jaded expression she always wore when they were alone together. She certainly didn't look like she'd just spent time in jail or been charged with several horrible crimes. But looking more closely, there were shadows under her eyes that her makeup couldn't quite conceal, and she was almost trembling to maintain her posture. Beneath the facade, she was bone-tired.
Nolan decided to throw her a bone; he gestured to the chair next to him. "Take a seat, I'm sure this will be extremely entertaining."
He minimized the browser window with a few clicks; when he turned back to Emily, she was settling into the chair, with an ill-concealed expression of relief.
"So what's happening?"
"Look, I'll tell you straight out: you're the weakest link here, Nolan. Everyone else either doesn't know enough, or is... absent." Nolan thought about the fate of Amanda, and shuddered. "But if you get up there on that stand and crack, you could end me right there."
"Well that's a vote of confidence," Nolan said, feeling strangely hurt. He'd promised to protect David's daughter, after all, and that's what he'd been doing. Sort of.
"I know you, Nolan," Emily said. "You'll help from the sidelines, but if it's your skin on the line, you're not going to risk it for me." She took a deep breath. "And that's why we have to get married."
"We-- wait, what?"
"You can't testify against me if you're my husband." Emily was looking straight at him, the way she always did when expressing uncomfortable truths. "Look, if you're worried about your money, we can draw up a prenup to protect it. We'll lay low and divorce in a few years when all this blows over, and that'll be the end of it."
Nolan scratched his head. Every time he thought he had a handle on her, Emily threw him another curveball. "Well, yeah, but... marriage? Seriously?"
As tired as she was, Emily hadn't lost any of her edge. She leaned in, eyes completely intense, her voice low and dangerous. "Listen, you're just as involved in this as I am. If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me. I'll implicate you in everything: Amanda, Tyler, Daniel, everything." Her voice caught a bit when she said Daniel's name; he wondered if it was genuine, or something she'd been practicing since he was killed.
Either way, it hadn't been necessary. Nolan leaned back, held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, fine, fine. But I have to say for the record, this isn't the greatest foundation to build a marriage on."
She couldn't have expected him to give in so easily, but she nodded, not betraying any surprise. "Whatever. We can go to see the judge tomorrow. Now, I have to go home--"
She stood up, but he put his hand on her arm, stopping her. "Hey, you can stay here tonight, in one of the guest bedrooms," he said. "It'll make it more realistic, right?"
She froze for a moment, thinking about it, then nodded. "All right," she said.
He took her to a guest room, the one that was right next to his own bedroom. It wasn't dusty, thanks to the maid who came in every week, but she was the first person who'd actually slept there. He considered telling her that, decided it would be too pathetic even for him.
"Well, uh, there's new toothbrushes and stuff in the bathroom."
She was sitting on the bed, looking around the room, and for a moment she looked so lost and lonely that he wanted to… he didn't even know. Comfort her, or something like that.
"Goodnight," he said, instead. When she didn't answer him back, he shut the door quietly.
* * *
They got an expedited license the next morning, after Emily had run back to the beach house to change her clothes. They'd gone in the same car, the two of them barely speaking to each other.
He had to ask her one question, though. "Hey, Emily," he said. "Before we really start this -- it doesn't even really matter either way, but I have to know. Did you have him killed?"
Emily was silent for a long time. "No," she said finally.
After that, there wasn't really anything else to say.
The ceremony itself was completely unsentimental. Big Ed served as their witness. "A man of many talents," Nolan quipped as he watched him sign the license. No one laughed. They didn't kiss.
"I've got to go back home, after this," Emily said as they drove home. "Victoria is going to be suspicious. It was bad enough that I wasn't there last night."
She said it in the same tone that she'd used to remark on the weather, but Nolan noticed her knuckles whitening around the steering wheel. Right, he thought. Now it was a place with two ghosts in it, not just one. If that was even something that bothered her.
* * *
Somehow, in the back of his mind, he'd thought that that would be the end of it. But of course they had to make it slightly less obviously a sham marriage.
And this week, that meant hobnobbing at Lydia's latest party. She was back on top and magnificently spiteful in her victory, which included petty revenges like inviting Victoria to the same part as her current arch-nemesis.
Nolan hadn't seen Victoria since the engagement party, and he looked at her curiously as she glided through the crowd. She was wearing all black, in a simple, almost severe cut, but the expression on her face was just as composed and serene as ever. It was hard to remember that this was the same woman who'd screamed and wept over her son just a few weeks earlier.
When she spotted them. Emily tightened her grip on his arm. "Let me do the talking," she said, while they watched Victoria sweep toward them.
Victoria gave them a once-over when she finally reached them. "Well, I see you've landed on your feet," she said, with a sniff in Nolan's direction. "But then, I shouldn't be surprised that you'd be so shameless."
"Wow, kind of a harsh opener," Nolan said. Both women ignored him.
"I'm hurting just as much as you are, Victoria," Emily said, voice trembling slightly. Nolan could see tears shining in her eyes. "I had hoped that we could share our sorrow together, but I wanted to respect your wish to grieve alone."
"You're disgusting," Victoria snapped. "I can only hope that the judge won't see through your lies when you take the stand."
"Victoria, I loved your son." Emily's voice was breaking, and she clutched Nolan's arm as if she was hanging on to a life raft. People were turning and starting to stare. "I-- I just wish that you could see that. Excuse me." She turned, pulling Nolan along behind her.
"Whoa, hey," he said. But she jerked him behind her relentlessly. He only got a glimpse of Lydia, grinning maliciously, and then they were going, out of the hall, out the front door, and into the car before he could really comprehend what had happened. As he closed the car door behind her, he could see her slump back, burying her face in her hands.
It hadn't really been what Nolan had expected her to do. After he got in, he started the car, buying himself some time until he finally got up the nerve to talk to her. "Um, are you okay?" he asked. She didn't say anything.
"Emily?" And then, more softly: "Amanda?"
She didn't say anything, but that was more than enough to worry him. He'd never seen her this upset before. What would David do? he asked himself. Tentatively, he reached out and patted her shoulder.
"I'm fine," she said, as soon as he touched her. "Just, just give me a moment."
"Yeah, sure. Take all the time you want," he said. "I'll take you back to my place."
* * *
She seemed calmer by the time they got back to his house, but it was always hard to tell with Emily. Nolan poured her a drink, but she waved it away, so he collapsed next to her on the sofa.
"It was the first time I saw her since the wedding," she said. "I—I didn't expect—"
"Hey," Nolan said. He turned her toward him, cupped her face in his hand. "It's okay—"
And suddenly she was kissing him, hard and fast and furious. He was motionless for a moment, surprised, but then he was kissing her back, his fingers through her hair, clutching her, wanting more—and then the alarm bells started to go off. He pulled back.
Somehow she'd gotten half on top of him. He swallowed. "H-hey, Emily, are you sure about this?" he asked.
"Shut up, Nolan," Emily said, sounding more like her usual self. He'd never seen her eyes like this before, though—dark and huge and hungry. She—God, was she staring at his mouth?
She kissed him again, and he forgot what his objections had been. He deepened the kiss, pulling his arms around her waist. There hadn't been anyone in a long time, besides Tyler. Hardly anyone ever, if he was being honest with himself.
"Should we take this upstairs?" he asked, the next time they pulled away from each other. "Not that I want to ruin the moment or anything, but this sofa is kind of expensive, and—"
"Yeah, whatever," Emily said. She wound his tie around her hand, and he could feel himself flush. "Come on, let's go."
* * *
When he woke up the next morning, he was alone in bed, and for a moment it was like it had never happened. But when he went downstairs, Emily was halfway through an omelette and tapping on her laptop. She hadn't bothered to make one for him, he noticed sourly.
"So, we're having this kind of relationship now?" he asked, flopping into the chair next to her. "Because you know, I could really get used to this."
"Whatever, Nolan," Emily said, barely paying him any attention. She took another bite of omelette and started typing while she chewed.
"So, what does the mighty Emily do with her spare time when she's finished with her revenge?" Nolan asked, peering over her shoulder. "Play Farmville?"
"I'm not finished," Emily said absently. She reached for her fork again, drawing her hand back when Nolan slapped the counter.
"Seriously? After everything that's happened? You still aren't finished?"
Emily's voice was deceptively casual. "I won't be finished until Victoria suffers as much as my father did. You should know that by now."
"Emily, you killed her son! What more can you do to her?" Her eyes snapped to his face, furious.
"I DIDN'T KILL DANIEL!" Her voice echoed loudly in the room, and it seemed to remind her of herself. She visibly, consciously relaxed, drew her mask of indifference on again, turned back to her computer. When she spoke again, it was quietly.
"You don't seem to get it, Nolan. I don't care if you approve, and I never have. I'm going to do this. Either help me or get out of the way."
It was the choice he was always faced with. Sometimes things were interesting enough to ignore it, but it always came down to this: if he helped her, he was breaking his promise to David, but if he didn't help her, she'd push him away entirely. It was like he had to choose between them. And he still had no better way of figuring it out than he had when he'd first cornered her, months ago.
At the moment, though, he was seriously tempted to wash his hands of all Clarkes. "You know what, no," he said. "I'll help you get out of this trial, but I can't watch you do this anymore. Get out."
"Get out of here. Go home or something. I'm sick of this."
Emily pressed her lips together. She closed the laptop with a snap and picked it up, taking it with her. "Fine," she said. "I'll do this myself. I always have to, in the end."
* * *
Even though the weather was getting colder, he knew she'd go back to the beach house. So later, after he'd had a chance to cool off, he followed her there. The house was lit when he drove up, while beyond it, Grayson Manor was cold and dark, a light visible in only one window. Victoria was the only one staying there now, he realized.
He worked his way around the back side of the beach house, just as he had so many times before. When he peeked through the windows, Emily was there, still working on her laptop. He wondered if she'd been at it all day.
She saw him at the door before he had a chance to knock and closed the laptop, hurrying to let him in.
"I'm not sorry," was the first thing out of his mouth when she opened the door. Emily blinked at him, then her expression hardened. She started to shut the door, but Nolan put his hand on the door jamb, words tumbling out. "Whoa, whoa, wait, wait! I'm not sorry, but – can I come in? I think maybe we need to talk."
"We can talk right here," Emily said.
"You aren't worried about the Wicked Witch of the West seeing us?" Nolan asked. Emily glanced involuntarily toward the foreboding mansion, visibly weighing her options.
"Fine, come in," she said finally.
Nolan didn’t bother sitting down or anything; he launched right into it. "Look, all I'm saying is, if you keep doing this, it's going to blow up in your face, even worse than it has already. Which is what I've been telling you for weeks. But," he said, as she started to protest, "we're married now, for whatever that's worth, and more importantly, I've been with you this far. I can't let you keep going alone."
"And I'm sure you won't try to sabotage me again," Emily said, obviously skeptical. "I get it, Nolan. You don't agree with this, you think my father would hate me for it—"
"—that's not what I said—"
"—and you probably just came over here because you were lonely again." She stalked over to the kitchen table, leaning against it. "Help me on the stand. I don’t need anything else from you."
"Yeah, but see, the thing is, we've got a good thing going. I mean, we both know where we stand with each other, right? Even if we don't trust each other, you at least know what I'm going to do. I'm not going to sell you out, I'm not going to spread your secrets, and you aren't going to steal my money or try to take over my company. And that's worth something, right?"
He walked over toward her, grinning in a way that he hoped came off as debonair. "And plus, I think we both know there are other things we can do for each other."
"I knew it," Emily muttered. But she was half smiling, and as he came closer, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "Can you really deal with us being like this?"
He was already unhooking her bra. "This is as good as it gets for people like us."
* * *
He'd been in a lot of courtrooms over the years, defending IP and dodging anti-trust lawsuits. But this was the first time he'd taken the stand in a real criminal case. He didn't feel nervous though, more… exhilarated. It was like those final hours when a new product was shipping, and he knew it was going to be another success.
"Please state your full name for the record, sir."
"And what is your relationship to the defendant?"
Nolan allowed himself a dry smile. "She's my wife, of course."
There were a number of shocked gasps, and then the courtroom erupted into chaos, everyone seemingly talking at once. The prosecutor looked pole-axed. Over the sudden din, the judge's gavel barely made an impression.
"Order! Order!" she shouted. Slowly, the noise level went down. "Mr. Ross, why did you wait until now to inform the court of this?"
"Well, nobody asked me before," Nolan smirked. He looked to Emily; her face was completely neutral. He considered waving at her, decided against it.
"I—I call for a recess, your honor," the prosecutor said. Her voice was shaking.
"Granted, and I would like to ask the defendant, the witness, and both head attorneys to meet me in my chambers immediately."
In the end, they barely dodged contempt of court charges. But it was completely worth it.
* * *
It was a year and a day later when she served him with the divorce papers. Though he'd known it was coming, he hadn't expected it to be nearly this soon. He called her right away.
"Come on, seriously Ems?" He'd been getting used to this whole married thing, as much as he was loathe to admit it. Sure, they didn't live together, and sometimes went days without even talking to each other. But he was still helping her out sometimes, and they were both getting laid regularly, and surely that meant something.
"It's nothing personal," Emily said. "But I think I've got an in with this guy who was just hired by Grayson, a real up-and-comer. He needs to think I'm available."
"You could just cheat on me, you know."
"Trust me, I already dropped some hints in that direction. He's far too much of a gentleman, though."
"If that's the case, I'm surprised he'd get with you even after we split up," Nolan said. He moved the phone to his other ear. "I mean, first you kill your fiancé, then your rebound marriage lasts than two years, and then you're jumping right into bed with this guy… I mean, you've gotta admit, you've got some red flags there."
Emily sighed. "First, I didn't kill Daniel. And second, I'd almost think you were jealous, Nolan. Trying to keep me all to yourself?"
"I mean—" He could hear his voice getting whiny, tried to readjust. "I mean, it's been cool, you and me. Better than I expected. Why fuck it up?"
"You know nothing's really going to change between us," she said. "It's just... just business."
"Yeah, yeah," he sighed. "So, are you still in Paris?"
"Just got back," she said. "I'm at the airport now, actually."
"I can come pick you up," he offered.
"No need," she said. "I'm coming over to your place."
They'd gotten into a weird rhythm, since they'd gotten married. Emily would ask him for help with one thing or another; he'd argue with her, but she won more times than he did. And somehow, no matter who won or lost, they always ended up in bed tangled around each other. He'd never known anyone's body this well. He'd never known anyone this well at all.
"You're really sure you want this?" he asked her afterwards, drowsy and blissed out.
He didn't say what "this" was, but he didn't have to; she knew what he was talking about. "Don't worry, it's a good settlement. We both walk away with what we came in with. Have your lawyer look it over, it should be final in a month or two."
He didn't say anything in reply, and finally she rolled over, looking right into his eyes. "Nolan, this was always going to be a temporary thing," she said. "Don't take it personally."
"Yeah," he said, closing his eyes. He knew she wouldn't be there when he woke up. "I know."
He was almost asleep, so he almost didn't hear her whisper. "After this is over…"
He echoed her, half-asleep. "After this is over…"
She was quiet, and he wondered if he'd startled her. Then: "Maybe. We'll see."
He smiled. "I'll be waiting."