The Price Of Lust: Book One Of Faces In The Crowd, Chapters 6.1-6.7

CHAPTER SIX: THE WEDDING OF THE CENTURY

I: THE PREPARATIONS ARE MADE

Maggie had written her thoughts out in letters to explain her feelings to each of those in the wedding party. Sealing the envelopes, she sat them down after labeling who they were for. She felt so guilty for all she had done in her life. Selfishly vindictive, she’d tried her best to destroy those she felt had done wrong to her. And afterward, she’d done so much to damage those she cared about simply because she selfishly didn’t want them to see her in the weakened state her illness had left her.

She hoped that each would forgive her for her inconsiderate actions. Most of all, she hoped her children would forgive her. She had hurt them the worst. She had deprived them of their mother—her. Now, she was hoping that they’d want to come back into her life. She needed them now more than ever. She knew that.

It had been Conrad’s idea to include them all in the wedding party, and she’d agreed enthusiastically. She wanted them included. They had every right to be there in important positions.

She wanted them to feel like a part of the family they were born into.

But did they want to be a part of the family they probably felt had abandoned them? She didn’t know. She could only hope that they would. Only time would tell.

All she could think about was the big empty hole that had been in her life ever since she’d sent them away. She’d felt empty and she didn’t like that feeling. Now, she wanted to fill that hole and the only way she could think of filling it was to bring them back into her life…all of them. Her old friends and her family, they were as close as she’d get to having a true extended family. So she invited them all back.

In a way, she felt as if she was paying restitution to them for the years of neglect that she had heaped upon them in her selfishness. She only wanted to make things better. She wanted to pay attention to the again and be involved in their lives again. And this was the only way she knew how. But would they be willing to come back around her after so long? She had no idea.

II. CAT TAKES THE CAKE

Cat Catrelle had always been an excellent cook. After the fiasco in Tulsa, she’d went straight and opened a bakery. People, being more forgiving than she’d expected, had begun to frequent her little shop and had standing orders all year long. Birthdays, holidays, and weddings had been her busiest times of the year. Everyone wanted a cake from her shop during those times. Now, she had become determined to bake the cake for her friend’s wedding.

Though Maggie had objected at first, Cat persisted and finally won the honor. It was going to be the biggest and most beautiful cake that the world had ever seen for this sort of occasion. The frosting, alone, would be a spectacle. White chocolate panache, teal green mint leaves, strawberry roses, and lemon drop ribbons draped over a red silk cake that stood four tiers high and was a good two foot in circumference at the bottom and stood at least three foot tall…after the tiers were all stacked.

Cat had remembered Maggie’s fondness for red silk cakes. She’d also remembered all of Maggie’s other favorite confections. Thus, when combined, that was the perfect cake for her wedding. It was the only choice. Maggs would love it.

It took her all day, the day before the wedding, to make the cake. She knew that it would be a hard secret to keep, so she employed Conrad’s help. But, for backup, she also employed the rest of the wedding party. Each would act as Con’s backup, should Maggie slip away from her betrothed. It was the perfect setup.

They would keep Maggie busy while Cat prepared the cake. Cat would carefully make the cake, frost it, and finish it with the candy bride and groom after setting the tiers. Hell. Even the pillars, made specially for this kind of cake by Cat, was candy. None of the candy pieces were easy to make, either. They took a lot of time and patience to make in such a way that the pillars could withstand the weight of the tiers and still be easy enough to eat without having to suck on them.

When it was finished, it was a work of art. It would be hard to carve it up and feed it to the guests. But, like all cakes, it was meant to be eaten. Cat was proud of her masterpiece. She had saved the best of her work for the friend she’d always been closest to. And now, that friend would share in the best that she had to offer.

After it was done, she took it to the boardroom, where the reception was to be held. There, she set it in the center of the main table. It made such a great centerpiece that the rest of the decorations complimented it. The sight was one of sheer beauty. Cat smiled.

She’d missed Maggie ever since she’d left the cathouse. Life had not been the same. She knew that Maggie had been trying to punish the girls for what their parents had done, but it hadn’t really mattered. They’d been punishing themselves, too. Maggie had been a good person. So had Calvin and Divine, Maggie’s parents. Why had her father gone in with the others and destroyed the Ushers?

That had been a question each of the girls had asked themselves from the very beginning. Calvin had never done anything to any of them. Their jealousy had been unfounded. Then, those evil flame-haired men had come into the picture. From there, everything seemed to head south.

Each girl had watched, in silent terror, from their hiding places as those two vile monsters murdered their families…sparing only those that they couldn’t find. The only member of the group to come away the most scarred was Rosa. Poor little Rosa. She’d watched as her father’s empty, dead stare fell upon her as she watched the massacre from beneath her bed.

But Cat and the others had not known of Rosa’s secret nightmare until Consuela finally broke through the traumainduced muteness. From that point on, they had become determined to pay Maggie back for the wrongs their parents had caused. They sold themselves gladly. They couldn’t, no matter how they tried, get rid of the dirty feeling that came from knowing that their fathers had contributed to the murder of Maggie’s. They could never erase the scenes they’d witnessed as Cain and Lucifer turned on the town and slaughtered every man woman and child they could find.

But, who’d the other red-haired man been? He looked so much like the other two, that they assumed that he was their brother as well. Yet, he had not participated in the slayings. In fact, he’d come to each to warn them. But his warnings had fallen on deaf ears. Only those who survived the slaughter had listened.

He seemed horrified by the slaughter. Shortly before the events that changed so many lives, he vanished…just as he had appeared. Cozy had gone with him. And Cozy always seemed to appear before he did. But Cozy wasn’t the only one to disappear with him. Rosa’s brother had as well. So had Cat’s oldest brother and the oldest brothers of each of the other girls. It seemed that they had been given a chance at safety and freedom.

But at what cost? Where were they now? Only Cozy seemed to be in league with the mysterious third brother of Mr. Usher. The others seemed to merely vanish. But to where?

III. ROSA’S GIFT

Rosa had spent the years after working in the cathouse trying to put her demons to rest. She had only wanted to atone for the wrongs her father had done to Calvin Usher. She had known Mr. Usher and had never seen him do anything unethical. He had always been straight with all who did business with him. His honesty had been his greatest virtue, but the whole town-her father included-had betrayed him and sold him into the murderous clutches of his own brothers. But there had been another brother, Lazarus, who’d tried to persuade the town to refuse the offer of the other two. He had warned them that no good would come of the betrayal.

He’d told them that they were selling their own souls, but they wouldn’t listen. They didn’t listen when he told them that their decision had also signed their own death warrants. They could only think of the money they’d been offered. Money they would never see.

When death finally came knocking, they could only stand and watch in abject terror-unable to move-as their lives were taken in the most horrible bloodbath that the country had ever witnessed outside of the Civil War. The town had made a deal with the Devil, only to find that the Devil never keeps his end of the bargain. In the end, their souls had become his, and the money had never been intended for their hands. Of course, both Calvin and Lazarus had spoken of the fact that the rest of the Ushers never shared their money with any, not even their own.

And the town hadn’t believed them. They could only think of what they’d been offered greedily and to plot the end of Calvin’s existence. Poor Calvin. Poor Divine. Poor Maggie.

Rosa had watched from her hiding place under the bed as Cain Usher became a virtual human blender, slashing her mother and father’s throats. She’d stifled a scream as her father fell on the floor in front of her, his head nearly severed from his neck. The look in his dead eyes told her all she needed to know. Shock. Terror. Disbelief. It was all there.

It was as if God had turned His back upon the whole town. Their freed was repaid with their murders. The town ceased to exist. Even the preachers had been in on the betrayal and had paid with their lives. Not one soul, or so she’d thought, had been left to re-establish the town. It was left to become a ghost town, only fit to be inhabited by the ghosts of those slaughtered there.

Afterward, she spent days trying to wash her father’s blood off her face. She scrubbed so hard that, by the time Cat found her, her face was rubbed raw. The shock had sent her into a state of trauma-induced muteness. No one could get her to talk. Then, in Tulsa, Consuela finally brought her out of it.

Still, no matter what Maggie tried to humiliate her, she still loved the tall black haired woman. Nothing could change that. She owed Maggie so much. And there was still so much that she could never give back. She could never bring back Maggie’s father. She could never make restitution for all the her friend had lost.

The only thing she could give Maggie was her friendship and forgiveness. But could Maggie ever forgive her? Could Maggie ever forgive any of them? She could only hope so.

IV. MACIE LOOMIS

Macie stood out from the others in her ability to decorate for special occasions. After the events in that town they’d once called home, she’d attached herself to Maggie and accepted her as family. Hell. They were all the family they had. They were a sisterhood. They’d survived the destruction of their hometown. Their brothers were missing in action, and so they were the only family they had left. Not that they were related by blood, but they were related by events.

What’s more, they all blamed themselves for the murder of Maggie’s father. Maggie, in turn, blamed them as well. But that was in their past. Macie knew that. Still, there was nothing they could ever do to give Maggie back her father. She knew that, too.

It was a shock when Maggie agreed to allow Macie to decorate for her wedding reception and the nuptials as well. Macie could swear it was as if there was no animosity between Maggie and herself, but there should’ve been. Maggie seemed to have changed. She wasn’t the vindictive Madam she’d been in years past.

Perhaps she’d expected too much to remain the same. Then, again, Maggie wasn’t the same person she had been back then, either. She was suffering from some mysterious illness that threatened to take her from them all. And Sadie didn’t want to lose her sisterly friend. Life wouldn’t be the same.

So, in response, Sadie decorated. And the place was beautiful. Once she saw it, after the cake had been brought in, it all fit together nicely. In fact, it was perfect. She only hoped that Maggie would love it.

V. HELLENA

Hellena remembered the first time she met Maggie. It hadn’t been the best of circumstances, but they’d still become fast friends. They’d both plotted and succeeded in bringing down the man who’d hurt them both. And the man had fallen hard. He lost it all. His business, his money, his honor and his reputation. In the end, his losses led to his death. Their victory had been bittersweet.

They’d taken over the business and made it successful beyond anything its former owner had ever dreamed for it. They were a formidable team in the boardroom. Maggie had inherited her father’s “Midas touch” and their business was all the proof of it any one would ever need. Even after Maggie began her phase of self-seclusion, the business still benefited from her influence.

Now, the team would be back together. The business could only become even more successful. She smiled. She had looked forward to this day.

What was even better, Maggie had made it clear that there was to be more partners to be added to the board. Those of her children who were old enough to, would be given entry-level jobs in the business if they desired. So would the ladies from Tulsa and those who were in from Akron. That was, if they wanted to be a part of the business.

Still, it was an open option for them. There was to be no pressure. It was solely up to them if they did or not. Maggie had made that point clear. She merely wanted them close, she wanted them in her life again. And Hellena couldn’t blame her.

No one could ever have too many friends. You could only have too many enemies. And who better to share a legacy with than your friends? You can only leave a legacy to your children, but you can share it with those you call friend. And Maggs had a lot of friends.

So Hellena had sat down with the lawyers and had the paperwork drawn up. She was all for the idea, herself, so she obeyed her friend’s request. Now, she stood among those Maggie considered her friends and could see why she called them friends. They each brought something beautiful to the presence of the others about them. It was as if she had walked into a dream.

She smiled when she spied Lazarus. He was tall and regal in his royal blue tuxedo, rich vermilion bowtie, and blue and white loafers. His graying red-hair made him look like an aristocrat who’d seen his share of wars. Still, she’d taken a shine to Maggie’s aging uncle and couldn’t help but let it show. He was so gentle! And sweet! He was nothing like his brothers Cain and Lucifer. They were so full of evil and deceit. It was as if they weren’t from the same family.

Lacertian, too drew Hellena’s attention. No longer standing next to Lazarus, she now seemed smitten by the youth named Cozy. And cozy, too, seemed smitten with Lucretia. They were meant to be together. Maggs was right.

She walked over to Lazarus. He turned and smiled at her, a big sweeping grin.

“Hello, Miss Hellena, my sweet,” He stated, seriously, “care to dance?”

“Most definitely!” she found herself exclaiming, unable to contain her joy, “it would be an honor!”

“My dear little Maggie seems to be able to bring the honor out in all who comes into contact with her,” he replied, still smiling, “for that, she is most blessed. And she is right, you know. It is time I turned and faced my brothers. It is time for all of us to put

an end to this damned old war they started.”

“Yes,” she responded, “it is time to put the past behind us. Care to work on a new future with me?”

“Sure,” he stated, sincerely, “I have always held a deep love for you, you know. At least from the first time I met you…when you told me how to contact Maggie.”

“I know,” she found herself saying, “and I fell for you too, you know.” She smiled up at him. He kissed her on the lips, drinking in their sweetness.

VI. CAROLINE BORDEN

Carrie had placed her daughters in the position of keepers of the guest book. She felt as if it had been an eternity since she’d been in the awe-inspiring presence of Maggie Usher and, so, went in search of her old friend. She was honored to have been asked to this wondrous occasion and wanted her hostess to know as much. They had so much to catch up on, and so little time. But they would catch up. She was determined to do so.

Along the way, she bumped into the rest of the guests from Akron. They had all kept in touch with each other, and had followed Maggie’s rise from obscurity to the heights of her success. And they had all rooted her on every step of the way from a distance. The scandals had always been her trademark. They’d come to expect that from her. Hell. That was what they loved about her. She made scandal fashionable and a thing of prestige.

All had brought lavish wedding gifts to shower upon the lucky bride and groom. Their gifts, though, were not nearly lavish enough to tell anyone how much they truly loved Maggie. To all of them, she was a part of their family, a sister who was always there and always loved. Their presence, though, comforted her. That, alone, was enough proof to her that they loved her. And Carrie knew this.

She also knew that Maggie could not figure out why so many people loved her. She felt that they should hate her, but they didn’t. And Carrie felt her confusion. She struggled to think of a way to tell Maggie why so many loved her, and so few hated her. No matter how neglected Maggie thought she had left their friendships, they thought otherwise. Her silence was only a sign that she was fighting to succeed. They had all been guilty of that same silence toward the others, but they had come around and begun to reunite with their old friends. Very little had changed in them. They were still that same class of visionaries and friends. They had only grown and begun to make their visions into reality.

VII. LUCRETIA

Lucretia stood before Cozy, smiling. For the first time, someone had made her see where her heart should lay. Cozy had always been around her for the longest time…ever since she could remember. He was a fellow traveler on this strange flight she’d come to know as life. But the flight was almost over and she knew that life would go on, she just didn’t know how they would deal with life after it all. They’d spent so much of it on the lam. Now, they were stopping in their tracks and doing an about face.

She’d spent so many years of her life being afraid. Afraid of Lucifer. Afraid of Cain. Afraid of her own cousins. And for good reasons. For the most part, they were evil incarnate. More evil than the other house of Usher that had fallen over a century ago…their distant relatives who’d been so inbred that they were only one step away from being imbeciles. Their own branch of the family weren’t much better.

Twisted. They were all twisted. Products of their greed, hatred, lustful incest, and their deviance into the occult. And the occult had twisted them the most. It had been the dark legacy of the whole Usher family. Worship of their dead. Worship of the Devil and his demons. The unholy pursuit of magicks that were not for men to know. They conjured up all sorts of horrors. Hell. They had become the worst horror of all, spreading terror and death wherever they went.

Maggie was right. It was time to end the evil. It was time to face what she had, with Cozy and Lazarus, ran from for years innumerable. It was time to take the fight to those who pursued them. And Maggie was going to lead them. Together, they could claim victory. Apart, they would fall to defeat. So together, they would conquer the evil of the twins. This would be a day to remember.

She came out of her thoughts and turned her attention to her new beau.

“Can I have this dance?” She asked, smiling.

“Ain’t I the one who’s supposed to ask you that?” he replied, questioningly.

“Yes,” she replied, blushing, “and would you’ve done so?”

“I would’ve,” he replied, smiling, “eventually. But my, you are such a beautiful young woman. I see now what Maggie was doing.”

“And what would that be?” she inquired, knowingly.

“She’s giving us both what we have always been searching for,” he answered, “soul-mates to spend our lives with. And we will have a brighter future once we have dealt with Cain and Lucifer.”

She looked into his eyes, awestruck. She had finally found herself a knight in shining armor, a Prince Charming. As she moved into his embrace, her lips sought his. Love had finally found her. It had found them both.

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