Part 2: Claire: A Woman’s Journey – NY Heiress~Chicago Madam Excerpt


9

‘Til Death Do Us Part

 

“Hello darling,” Claire said as she kissed Randall on the cheek. They had decided to dine in town tonight and review the invitation list one last time. The invitations would be going out within six weeks.

“Hello sweetheart. How was your shopping? Did you find your shoes?” Randall had noticed that all of Claire’s nerves and temper over the wedding plans had been put upon her fruitless search for just the right slippers for the wedding.

Claire had been beside herself for days. Suzanna had reassured him that this was normal for a bride-to-be and suggested he just ride the waves of emotion that would vanish as soon as the wedding was over. He had watched her for weeks as she focused all her impatience and frustration over wedding plans, reception plans, trousseau plans, etc. etc. etc. onto this one poor pair of shoes.

“No, I just don’t understand how it can be so difficult to find what I want,” she pouted.

God he loved that pout. She had the sexiest pout ever found on a woman’s face. He wanted to just grab her right here and…well, better to concentrate on dinner.

Once Claire stopped thinking of her shoes, she realized he looked a little pale. “Randall, are you feeling alright?”

“Sure, don’t worry about me. You have enough to think about. I’m just a little tired. Maybe we should call it a night a little early tonight.”

“Well take care of yourself. I couldn’t bear it if you got sick.” She picked up his hand and brought it to her mouth to kiss it. Did he feel a little cold, she wondered? No, it was just cool in the restaurant that was all. She shouldn’t let her imagination run away with her. Everything seemed to set her off these days. If she wasn’t pouting over shoes, she was crying over cake or flowers, or dresses, or…oh, she had to relax.

“Let’s order some champagne and celebrate our wedding minus three months,” she suggested.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Randall agreed as he motioned for the waiter.

After dinner they reviewed the invitation list one last time. Two hundred seventy-five people were now on the list. Well it wasn’t small, but it wasn’t as big as some either. If they had had their way, it would have been the two of them with William and Suzanna and a quick escape to their honeymoon. Since that wasn’t going to happen, the list had to be dealt with and they decided to go with it as it was.

Suzanna could get the invitations ordered and William could relax knowing that there would be no more discussions over this grouch or that aunt who didn’t like that cousin, or this business man who wouldn’t be caught dead at the same table as so-and-so.

Why couldn’t people just relax and enjoy a great party; and it would be a great party! How many times over the last three months had Randall and Suzanna heard William say that his little girl deserved the very best and, by George, she was going to have it. Randall smiled at the thought. William and Suzanna were such wonderful parents. He hoped he and Claire could give them grandchildren to enjoy as well; lots of grandchildren.

“What are you grinning about, husband to be?” Claire interrupted his reverie.

“Oh, I was just thinking of children,” he smiled at her. “Lots and lots of children.”

Claire smiled back at him, “And would these children belong to anyone we know?”

“I certainly hope so,” he kissed her hand across the table.

“You don’t fool me Mr. Woodhouse. You just enjoy the process involved in making them!”

“Well,” he agreed smiling at her and winking, “there certainly is that.”

“Hum, well, not tonight, Mr. Woodhouse,” she sat back in her chair and looked at him now focusing in on the dark circles under his tired eyes. With a very stern expression on that gorgeous face and tapping a well manicured finger on the table in front of him, she firmly stated, “Tonight it is home and to sleep for you. I intend to work you like a horse for the next few weeks until this three-ring circus called a wedding is over.”

“And,” he replied, “I look forward to every moment of it, Miss Bradley.” If he had been forced to tell her just how poorly he really felt, well…he felt like crap, he thought to himself. He felt frozen to the bone, his gut ached and he was so exhausted it was an effort to put one foot in front of the other. It had been creeping up on him for a couple of weeks. But he wasn’t going to say anything to bring down her mood now that she had finally relaxed. If he wasn’t feeling better by Friday, he would make an appointment with his physician.

The next day, William waited for an hour for Randall to show up for their luncheon meeting. When he finally gave up, he decided to drop by Randall’s office to check on him. Randall’s secretary advised William that Randall hadn’t shown up for work this morning. She had tried calling him, but he wasn’t home.

This was not at all like Randall, he thought. Not at all like the boy. No, he didn’t like this at all. He gave his driver the address of Randall’s apartment and twenty minutes later pulled up in front. People were milling around the outside of the building and finally he noticed the policeman at the front door. William approached the officer and introduced himself. “My daughter’s fiancé lives here. What’s going on here?”

“What is his name, Mr. Bradley?” the officer asked.

“Randall Woodhouse, he lives on the second floor. What is going on?”

The young, Irish cop hated giving family members bad news, but it had to be done. “Mr. Bradley, your son-in-law has been taken to the hospital. His housekeeper found him on the bathroom floor this morning when she came to work. He was unconscious.”

William quickly found out where Randall had been taken and rushed to the hospital where he called Suzanna and Claire. The women arrived just as the doctor was explaining Randall’s condition to William.

“Papa, where’s Randall? What’s wrong with him?” Claire was nearly hysterical. Between the strain of the wedding plans and now this emergency with Randall, she was losing her usually calm facade. Those who really knew her knew that her temperament matched her flame red hair, but she had learned to mask her feelings with this cool veneer that was now cracking wide open.

“Calm down sweetheart. Dr. Johnson here is just about to explain what’s going on with your young man.”

The three of them looked at Dr. Johnson and tried to push back their panic when the doctor asked them, “Can you tell me how long he’s been feeling poorly?”

Claire spoke up, “He was very tired at dinner last night and, well I thought he might have been chilled, but the restaurant was cool, so I’m not certain. Now that I think back on it, he hasn’t been quite his usual energetic self for a couple of weeks. I should have noticed earlier! I should have seen…” Claire’s attempt to remain calm finally broke and her mother held her tightly to her as Claire sobbed, blaming herself for not recognizing that he was ill.

Dr. Johnson said, “The low temperature is no doubt due to the internal bleeding we’ve discovered.”

Suzanna spoke up next, “He mentioned the day before that he had been having headaches, but he didn’t want to worry Claire, so he asked me not to say anything to her.”

“Well, I have to tell you that we’re very concerned. He hasn’t regained consciousness and frankly, we believe he may have been poisoned.”

“Poisoned?” Claire shouted. “Poisoned? Who would poison Randall?”

“Well, we aren’t certain, but he certainly isn’t responding to any treatments we’ve tried so far and, I have to be honest with you.” Dr. Johnson paused; this was one of the toughest parts of his job, “I’m not sure he’s going to pull through. We don’t know what he may have ingested, so we’re just guessing at a treatment.” The doctor waited for a moment for this to sink in and then continued, “Without knowing the cause, we are unable to treat him appropriately. Add the internal bleeding which we have only been able to slow down…well, frankly it doesn’t look good.”

William and Suzanna grabbed for Claire who was teetering. They took her to a chair and made sure she sat, but she insisted that the doctor continue. “We’ve notified the police and they’ll be here soon to take a report, but if he doesn’t regain consciousness very soon, I don’t know if we’re ever going to know what the poison was or how it got into him.”

“This can’t be happening,” Claire cried. “Randall! Oh, Randall!”

Suzanna looked from her daughter to the doctor. “They’re getting married in three months. May she go in to see him, doctor?”

“Yes, certainly, just don’t stay more than a few minutes.”

They helped Claire up and led her to Randall’s room. She went into the room and the door closed behind her. William turned and looked at Dr. Johnson. “What aren’t you saying Doctor?”

Dr. Johnson cleared his throat and said, “We don’t expect him to survive the night, Mr. Bradley. In fact, I would be very surprised if he’s still alive an hour from now.”

Suzanna gasped and buried her face in William’s chest. Tears were streaming down William’s face. “I don’t understand this. How could something like this happen to someone like Randall? He’s the best young man I’ve ever known. How could such an awful accident happen to him?” He held his sobbing wife tenderly.

“Mr. Bradley, I seriously doubt this was an accident. It is much more likely someone has murdered this young man. We may never know what poison was used, but the police have found nothing in his apartment that can easily be identified as a poison. So it is likely he was poisoned elsewhere; perhaps at a restaurant or by something in a drink at work. The police will be looking into this.”

“My God! How do we tell Claire?” Suzanna raised her wet face to her husband’s. Then they heard the sound they would never forget. Claire…screaming.

***

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