CHAPTER TWELVE: THE TRUTH
What Paracelsus said about your past . . . .
Before I left, Father told me something that I am just now beginning to understand. He said that there is a truth beyond knowledge, beyond everything you'd ever hoped . . . . . That truth is love.
--- To Reign in Hell (Written by Gansa & Gordon)
As the plane neared the small landing strip, Elliot Burch glanced out the window and felt a surge of emotion at the sight of Pinewillow. Memories of the past collided with the present with shocking intensity, and oddly enough, they centered not on the virtually superhuman comeback he’d achieved since Gabriel had so ruthlessly dismantled his empire. Rather, his thoughts were on the two women whose absence in his life still left a gaping hole in his heart. Yet, the memories were bittersweet, for it was their love, courage, and wisdom that had shaped him into the man he was today — a better man who, he hoped, had finally lived up to their expectations of him.
In the last stages of his mother's illness, she had finally fallen into a coma. Stubbornly refusing to concede to the medical team's professional judgement, he'd refused to allow the doctors to turn off the machines that had kept his mother’s heart beating. And in those last heart-wrenching months, he'd had her transferred to Pinewillow. Now seeing the convalescent facility again in the distance from his vantage point high in the sky, it seemed larger than he'd remembered - but then that had been some time ago but still not long enough to stop the flow of memories . . . .
Ten years in the past — following his mother’s passing and the scorn of his father who unfairly blamed him for the cancer that had taken her life — he had given a sizeable donation to the facility. Later, he had consented to serve on the Board of Directors and had become one of its most influential members. The private, modern facility with its exclusive clientele of long-term care patients was not only the best of its kind, but had the kind of reputation, with Dr. Daniel Tallenger at the head, that was well deserved. Elliot had known Tallenger for some years and had come to respect his expertise in the field of long-term convalescent care. His gut feeling, when he'd first met Daniel Tallenger over ten years ago, was that he was first and foremost a good doctor who put his patients first. His attempt to assuage the grief over his mother’s death had prompted his donation to the center in an amount unprecedented in its history. Thus, Tallenger now headed up the administration of a private, well-endowed facility where the care of his patients could take priority over fiscal considerations. In this environment, a doctor of Tallenger's abilities had flourished, and so had Pinewillow. Elliot couldn’t imagine what emergency with Catherine would have prompted the doctor’s call after nearly two years of silence. If she hadn’t passed away, and Elliot recalled that the doctor had said that she was fine, then what was the problem?
Shaking off his uncertainties, Elliot schooled himself to relax. Whatever Tallenger needed to tell Elliot, he felt certain the man would give him the bottom line. Up until now, that bottom line had held little hope of Catherine's full recuperation.
He had gotten her the best care money could buy, but that hadn't brought her back. Leaning his head back, he took some comfort in that, but he knew trouble when he heard it. Something was definitely wrong: wrong enough for Tallenger to risk calling him, he mused. Tallenger had been given explicit instructions to call only in case of a dire emergency. Elliot also knew that although the doctor had deduced the seriousness of the danger that had necessitated Catherine’s hidden identity at Pinewillow, he was still unaware that the threat to her had been eliminated over a year ago.
With Catherine's condition remaining the same day after day, Elliot had seen no need to remove her from the facility. Not once in all the time that Catherine had been at Pinewillow had Tallenger called. There was definitely a problem. He’d heard it in the man's voice, and over the years he had learned to trust his natural sense of apprehension. Elliot Burch was a man of means, wealth, and power over other men, and in dealing with those who took his orders, he knew well the sound of hesitation and regret. Why would Tallenger feel any of that about Catherine? Certainly she could not be worse than the diagnosis of a semi-comatose state.
Still, she was alive even though she was as close to death as one could come---but she wasn't dead. She couldn't be dead. He couldn't go through that again. Passing his hand through his hair, he leaned toward the window. Staring into the white mist of clouds, his hands instinctively clinched the arm rails of the chair as he once again relived for the hundredth time the horror of that day more than a year earlier. He had found Catherine's body outside the private entrance of his office suite. He still had no idea who had brought her there. Hell, he didn't even know how anyone could have managed to get her body to the 17th floor without being seen by the security personnel or surveillance equipment that infiltrated every corner of his office building. In his mind he kept seeing her still, broken body curled up in the doorway covered with a heavy black cloak, and when he pulled back the cloak, there had been so much blood. He thought she was dead. At that moment he had hoped she was dead, never to awaken and realize the horrors she must have endured at Gabriel's hands.
Gabriel. He discovered only later the extent of evil that one man could wield against an entire society. The evil embodied by that man had reached out and stolen Catherine away for so long that even Joe in the D.A.'s office had given up hope of ever finding her alive. On that night when first he'd found her, all he had known was that somehow the life had been wrenched from the woman he had loved once, and who he still loved now.
He had picked her up and taken her into his office. She was so cold. As he carried her body into his office, he felt a weak tremble. God, he had almost dropped her then, and as he watched her struggle against death, his heart broke into a million pieces. He thought he heard her whisper something. It sounded like Vincent, and then the trembling subsided.
She was still, so deathly still. Only a short while back Cleon Manning, now his chief of security, had asked him about the name Vincent. It was back then on that tragic night that Elliot finally put the pieces together and faced the hard truth of his love for Catherine — that whoever this Vincent was, it was he, and not Elliot, who had captured Catherine's heart. He knew she was calling out to him with her last conscious breath. He knew that as long as there was a Vincent, Catherine would never be in love with him. And still it didn't matter to Elliot. She could call out to whomever, he had thought desperately, as long as she continued to live.
"Keep fighting Catherine and live..." he whispered as he stopped with her in front of his desk. He had to act, and act fast. His mind now kicked in where his emotions had just taken hold. He held her in his arms while he called first for his personal physician, Carl Jameson and next summoned Cleon Manning. Thank heaven they were both still in the building. He was afraid to lay her down, afraid that if he let go of her, the life force which had risen for only seconds would fade away forever. As though his will could keep her alive, he held her tightly in his arms, hoping against hope that she could feel the beating of his heart, take strength from him, and stay alive while help arrived. And she did hang on, though just barely.
He never left his office that night, and neither did Jameson or Manning. Silently he stood watch over her as Jameson made arrangements for the medicine and equipment he needed and Manning had it all transported to his office without incident. Not for the first time Elliot witnessed the extent to which money was transformed into power which could sidestep rules and remove obstacles, and he felt grateful that he’d amassed enough to make such power his. It was this power that opened doors without questions at nearby St. Vincent Hospital and permitted life support equipment to be transferred from the hospital to his office building. Once Dr. Jameson had given the guarded opinion that Catherine would survive, he allowed himself to hope again. It was also then that he turned his thoughts to what should be done next.
In the early morning hours, the three men - Burch, Jameson, and Manning - planned what to do with what was left of Catherine Chandler. It was difficult for Elliot to stay focused, for within Jameson's report to him on Catherine's condition, he had announced that the blood was not from a bullet wound or injury as Elliot had initially assumed. She had recently given birth and hemorrhaged. Catherine had been pregnant. That revelation was a bomb shell by itself, but it was the next obvious question that caused Elliot to break out in a cold sweat. Where was the child? With no plausible explanation, Elliot concluded that the child must have died at birth. Anything else was too horrible to consider when faced with Catherine's abused condition. He felt his heart crush again under the burden of imagining what she must have gone through.
It was Manning's presence and singular focus on the crisis at hand which yanked Elliot back to reality. Suppressing the images from his mind, he brought himself back to the issue of Catherine's safety. There would be time enough later to heal the wounds that this night had brought into his life. Not once did it occur to him back then that the emotional wounds might never heal.
First, he needed to find a place where Catherine could be cared for in her condition. Burch knew that it would not be enough to just hide her. Whoever had left her at his door had thought she was dead; and indeed when he'd first seen her, so had he. Jameson's medical opinion was that after giving birth, the lack of post-natal care and loss of blood had spiraled Catherine into shock. That, in addition to whatever she had been subjected to for the past six months, had caused her comatose condition. He was frankly amazed that she was alive, since he'd also discovered from a quick blood test some unknown properties that he couldn’t identify, along with one that he could. She had been administered a huge dose of morphine, enough to induce death through the slow shutdown of all vital systems. The bottom line was that she should have died.
Yet, it seemed that whoever had tried to take her life had also tried to insure her a merciful death through a sleep from which she was never intended to awake. That, along with her weakened state from childbirth should have been enough to kill her. Elliot remembered how Jameson had shaken his head in genuine puzzlement, and then told Elliot with the honesty of a doctor who knew his client would settle for nothing short of the truth that for all practical purposes, Catherine Chandler should have been a corpse.
That she wasn't spoke volumes about her will to live, but the hard cold facts were that her condition was still very serious. As for recovery, she was comatose, and while she might recover to a normal life, there was nothing more that he could do for her under the circumstances. Furthermore, Dr. Jameson couldn’t say when, if ever, she would awaken.
"Her mind has shut down, Elliot," Jameson told him gently. "It was the only way she could survive this. Whether she has the strength to come back from where she’s hiding is out of our hands. For now, this coma may well be saving her life by slowing down her metabolism and giving her the time to heal inside where I suspect there is more damage than what I’m able to assess under these conditions."
Manning then stepped in and, leaning forward, simply said, "Mr. Burch, I believe you've just received your second greeting card." Elliot looked at the man long and hard after those words. He, of course, understood completely his chief security officer's meaning. Manning viewed Catherine's body, tossed like a rag doll at the doorstep of Burch's office, as a second warning for Elliot to back off from his inquiries into Malloy, Davidson, and Hanover Trust. Months earlier, Elliot had agreed to assist Catherine in investigating references made to these conglomerates in a code book shortly before she had been abducted. The first greeting card, as Manning called it, had come with the total destruction of the Burch Grand Hotel and Casino by arson. More than two hundred people had died in that fire, and instead of backing him down, it had infuriated Elliot in a way that Manning had never seen before, or since.
By bringing this up, Manning once again rescued Elliot from his emotions. Catherine was in a coma. He had to accept that and trust her to find her way back. More than his pity, she needed him to give her a safe place and the time to navigate back to this life. Burch was not foolish enough to think that he could hide Catherine forever as she was in his office. In fact, with the flagship of his empire torched the week before and the security to his Manhattan office penetrated tonight, Burch was sure there would be no safe haven for Catherine if she was discovered to still be alive. His only remaining hope of protecting her was to make her as dead as whoever sent her body to him had thought she was. That would mean staging her funeral and erasing the name of Chandler from the world of the living. Elliot knew this was his one chance to save Catherine, and her only chance to survive.
He gave a quick, anxious glance at the still figure now lying peacefully on a portable bed in the center of his office and then began to lay out his plan to protect Catherine Chandler as only he knew he could. It would take both his wealth and power, but if she could live through this nightmare, there was the hope that one day he could bring her back. He wondered to himself, though, if she would ever want to return to a world which had treated her with such malice and cruelty.
Once they had decided upon Pinewillow, Manning had adamantly insisted that until whoever had threatened her life had been eliminated, Elliot could not afford even a brief visit or phone call to the facility. Thus, it was Jameson and Manning who accompanied Catherine to what would become her home for the next two years at the Pinewillow Convalescent Center. It took Jameson only a phone call to make the arrangements with Dr. Daniel Tallenger, and while Tallenger and Jameson were friends, as well as colleagues, it didn’t hurt that Elliot was a major player on the Board in charge of the facility. Then it was only the matter of getting Catherine and the necessary equipment loaded onto Elliot's helicopter which stood ready on the roof of the building. Manning took over the controls and along with Jameson, flew Catherine to Pinewillow where they left her in Tallenger's hands.
After that night, neither of the three men ever mentioned Catherine Chandler's name to one another again. There was no need. They knew that the same dark force that attempted to murder Catherine would have no qualms about killing them all. Then there was loyalty to Elliot Burch. Despite his money, power, and ambition, Elliot had retained the ability to inspire his closest associates, rather than alienate them. He knew back then that Manning and Jameson would keep Catherine's secret, and they had. It was now nearly two years later, and with the exception of the three men, no one knew that Catherine Chandler was still alive.
Right before the helicopter carrying Catherine departed, Jameson had gripped Elliot's arm and told him to have faith. It was possible that she would come out of the coma. But over the months of waiting with no change in her condition, Elliot had frankly lost all hope. For her safety, he took Manning's words to heart and never went near Pinewillow after the night she was admitted as a Jane Doe. He couldn't take the risk of her being discovered through him, and certainly in Catherine's condition it would take little effort to finish the job of killing her. So from that day, funds were transferred from Elliot's accounts to cover her care. His only reminder of Catherine was a monthly statement from the facility with a note scribbled on the bottom which always read the same: No Change. Thus, no one from the outside world ever inquired about the Jane Doe at Pinewillow, and no one ever visited her....not even the man whose unrequited love had saved her life; that was, until today.
Lost in the past, he didn’t notice that his plane had landed. As the roar of the engines died, he looked up and pulled himself to the present. Manning stood ready to disembark the plane, but hadn't disturbed him. Mindful of what this trip meant to Elliot Burch, he didn't interrupt the thoughts of his employer and friend. Elliot smiled. Manning was a good man, and Elliot was glad to have him at his side. Well, whatever happened now to Catherine, at least Gabriel was no longer a threat. With his death, Catherine Chandler ceased to be a pawn in his sick game.
Perhaps now was the time to bring her back with him to Manhattan, comatose or not. At least then he would have her near where he could personally watch over her condition. There were still so many unanswered questions about how Catherine had come to be outside his office door that night, but then, Catherine's entire adult life was filled with unanswered questions. That thought caused Elliot to pause before standing up to leave the plane. Of one thing Elliot was certain: almost worse to him than her death would be Catherine's agony in reliving those months. Perhaps that was the new development that Tallenger alluded to. If so, Elliot didn't quite know how he would face those memories with her. Still, he had never been a man to back away from life's good or bad. So with some reluctance, but the same presence of character that Elliot Burch carried as a shield against the world, he stepped down with Cleon Manning onto the flight of stairs leading from the plane and saw the solitary figure of Dr. Daniel Tallenger waiting for him.
For Dr. Daniel Tallenger, it took less time to tell Burch what had happened than he had originally imagined it would - but then, it really doesn't take much time to unravel a ball of yarn, peeling off the events layer by layer. Dr. Daniel Tallenger now sat at his desk gingerly nursing a painful, discolored jaw which had already begun to swell. He tasted blood, and he knew several teeth were loose. He also suspected from the excruciating pain that the jaw was broken. Across the room stood Elliot Burch. Breathing raggedly in an attempt to regain some semblance of calm, he leaned forward in front of the large bay window that overlooked the courtyard below, staring silently at something beyond. His hands rested on the window ledge, the right hand still clenched in a fist. For the first time Tallenger noticed that Burch had large, worker’s hands, something he wouldn’t have ever expected of a rich man. At least now the man’s hand was still, halted from its forward motion into Daniel Tallenger's jaw.
Beside Burch stood Cleon Manning, Burch's security man. Thinking back, Tallenger now recalled him as the pilot of the helicopter that had brought the woman to his facility. Odd how one remembered such details when all he supposed he should have been thinking about was the acute pain shooting through the left side of his face and how to get the hell away from Burch. In a very real sense, though, he was grateful the other man had been here today. Though Manning stood off to one side, appearing relaxed and unconcerned, Tallenger knew it was a facade. Just moments earlier, the only thing that had prevented Elliot Burch from continuing the assault on his face was the quietly controlled presence of this black man. Manning was solidly built but unobtrusive. It was Manning who had pulled Burch away from Tallenger, but not before a right hook had slammed into his jaw with the force of granite.
Tallenger had naively imagined that he would quickly explain and apologize for the situation; Burch would show some justifiable irritation at their failure to keep the woman at the facility; and that would be the end of it. He had been wrong. His aching jaw was testament to the degree to which he had misjudged the man standing silently across the room from him. Burch had become more than irritated, he had become violent.
Once again he thought of how little time it had taken for all hell to break loose in his office. It had only taken five minutes for him to greet Burch and Manning at the private airfield; five more minutes for them to reach his office. Then five minutes into their conversation, Elliot had casually leaned toward the desk and asked to see her. Tallenger remembered now that he had called the woman Catherine. Was that her real name, he wondered? If so, it was amazingly close to the name she had chosen for herself, Caitland. It was then that he had replied truthfully that she was gone.
`Gone where?’ had been Burch's guarded inquiry. If Tallenger had known Burch better, he would have been familiar with the low, dangerous tone of the man's voice. Ignorant of the nuance, however, he never saw the impending danger of his reply. He had just finished saying "We don't know where she is. . ." when Burch had crossed the space between his chair and Tallenger's desk. With a quickness that caught the doctor completely off guard, he yanked Daniel up with one hand and connected his right fist with the left side of Tallenger's face. It happened so fast he hadn't even seen it coming. Then all he remembered was fighting for his life to get away from Elliot Burch.....rich man gone raving mad as far as he was concerned. If Manning had not been there, he was certain that Burch would have killed him. It was Manning who had held Burch's fist after the first punch connected...who had pried loose his grip from Tallenger's collar...who had literally thrown his boss away from the terrified doctor.
Remembering the murderous rage in Burch's eyes, Tallenger knew he had to find a way out of his office. As he continued to hold his jaw in place as best he could, his eyes shifted warily to the door leading from his office into his secretary's work station. Slowly, he stood on legs that felt too weak to support him, but before he could quite formulate a plan of escape, Elliot Burch turned away from the window and walked back over to once again face the doctor. Tallenger was now very much aware of the slim control this man had over his emotions concerning the woman. Even more, he knew now that for all practical purposes, he was far from safe....even with Manning standing there to keep his employer from committing homicide.
"Would you please be so kind, Dr. Tallenger, as to explain the details of how the woman who I placed in your care for almost two years has now ended up missing from this facility." It was not a question, it was a command for the truth. Tallenger knew that this man would just as soon smash his face in again rather than listen to him explain how the woman had eluded them all - but what choice did he have? With his jaw burning a hole in the left side of his face, he commenced talking. "It's been a little more than four days since she was discovered missing, Mr. Burch. We have no idea how she could have escaped. The internal security system was on, as well as the alarm for the outside gates. I suspect she got help from one of our part-time, weekend employees. We think that she actually left the premises....
"NO!" shouted Burch as his hand slammed down on the desk. In response to this latest outburst, Manning silently walked over to the edge of the desk where the two men faced each other, strategically placing himself between Tallenger and his boss.
Tallenger looked a Manning, but intuitively sensed that this man was far from his ally. In fact, he had no doubt that Burch’s man was fully prepared to kill him if he thought in the slightest that the doctor had acted with duplicity in arranging Catherine's absence from the facility. Manning stared at the doctor and could read his thoughts as clearly as if he were an open book. Seeing his fear, he determined that perhaps the doctor was not as stupid as he’d first been led to believe, since the man obviously now understood that his very life was on the line. As for Manning, he was one of the few men who knew the extent of Elliot Burch's concern for the woman who had been Catherine Chandler. Tallenger was now visibly shaking, and Manning would not have thought it possible, but the doctor actually seemed to shrink in on himself under their ruthless perusal. Manning suspected that before this meeting was over, he would have to restrain Elliot again, and more than likely pick the doctor off the floor.
Elliot's voice echoed through the room, his words distinct and cutting. "You will begin, doctor, from the moment that she opened her eyes. . . .unless you're trying to convince me that she came out of a two-year comatose state and just skipped out the next day."
"Of course not, Mr. Burch," Tallenger heard himself say. His words sounded garbled as the swelling in his mouth slurred his speech, but Tallenger did not hesitate in his account, and this time Burch did not interrupt. He finally concluded by explaining that Caitland had emerged from the coma, but had required several months of extensive rehabilitative therapy. It would have been premature to notify Burch before she had fully recovered.
Of all the possible problems that Elliot had imagined on his flight up to Pinewillow, that Catherine would have left the facility was one he had not considered. He had hit the doctor, but now in reflection, he knew his anger was as much directed at himself as it was at Tallenger. Gabriel had been dead for more than a year, and he'd never come to see her. . . .even this trip had been undertaken because of Tallenger's unprecedented call. After all the planning to keep her safe, she was out there, somewhere, with no friends or family, no knowledge of her past: nothing. How would she survive?
Elliot was prepared to accept what he knew was a flimsy excuse from the doctor when suddenly the truth dawned on him. He gave Manning a look that told him to stay back, and once again Elliot aggressively leaned across the wide desk to stare unblinkingly at the doctor. Though the large mahogany desk separated the two men, both knew that if Elliot didn’t like what he heard, the desk would be no deterrent to Elliot if he chose to go after the man again.
Like a predator going in for the kill, Elliot’s face was within a breath of Daniel Tallenger. He gazed directly into the eyes of the old man as if he had opened a window to his soul. "You lousy son of a bitch," he said in a deadly calm voice. "You kept her here without telling me for the money, didn't you. As much as this place makes . . . as much as I give here annually . . . you couldn't resist the temptation to bleed every dime from her condition, even after it was obvious that she had recovered. So right now you’re going to tell me.....the TRUTH!" he hissed through clinched teeth. "Tell me now, or so help me nothing on this earth will stop me from choking the life out of your worthless body."
Tallenger had broken into a cold sweat, and even the hand which held his jaw in place trembled violently. Looking into Burch's eyes, he knew the man had just made him more than a threat, it was a promise. In a small, scared voice he stammered. "It's...it's true. She was completely recovered a couple of months ago, but I kept telling myself she still needed more time. I had no idea she would run off. You've got to believe me. I had no idea...."
Perhaps it was finally hearing the truth in Tallenger’s confession which brought Elliot back from the brink of murderous rage to the realm of sanity. Perhaps it was seeing the doctor collapse into a pitiful heap - white with fear, shuddering from head to toe, and weeping in humiliation. Whatever it was, Elliot suddenly felt the anger drain out of him.
A hand touched his arm, and Elliot turned to find himself facing the cool, appraising eyes of Cleon Manning. Manning whispered a few words to Burch, and Tallenger once again watched as Burch transformed himself into a mask of calm. He looked down at Tallenger and in a voice that was emotionless, he began giving orders.
"Dr. Tallenger, you will make arrangements for Mr. Manning to stay on for a few days and further investigate Ms....Caitland, did you say?" Tallenger simply nodded, not trusting his voice any further. ". . . to investigate Ms. Caitland's mysterious disappearance. I expect you to give Mr. Manning your full cooperation. He is to have free access to your all records — patient, personnel, treatment, and fiscal records for the past two years. As for your office, you’ll re-locate yourself somewhere else. Mr. Manning will use it as his investigation headquarters . . . and by the way, he is to have complete access to all of your records, as well. Have I made myself clear?"
Tallenger still felt the cold knot of fear in the pit of his stomach, and rather than pushing his luck any further, he answered miserably, "Yes, sir. Everything will be at his disposal, sir."
"Wise decision," dead panned Elliot. "I take it you have nothing more to add concerning Ms. Caitland's disappearance?"
"Nothing," mumbled the doctor who was finding it increasingly more difficult to talk.
“Then get the hell out of here and have someone look at your jaw. I assume you have a physician on staff?”
Tallenger mutely nodded and made his way out of the room.
With that Elliot Burch dismissed Daniel Tallenger from his thoughts. He wasn't through with the man, but he was finished talking to him. "Cleon," he said as he turned to Manning who had still stood alert at his side. "I'm out of here. I'll send the copter back for you as soon as I return, but call me the minute you have any information. Who knows, with any luck we may still be able to locate her."
He reached out his hand and gripped Cleon's shoulder. The look Elliot gave Cleon was enough to convey his thanks to the man. While Cleon silently accepted the gratitude of his boss, he could find nothing to say that would make things any better . . . and there was nothing that Elliot did not already know. Both men knew that it would be virtually impossible to find a woman with only the first name of Caitland: a woman who had no memory of her past and who could have fled to several dozen different places bordering the perimeter of Pinewillow: not to mention the very real possibility that she had even left the state of New York altogether. So both men silently communicated, and even if Burch couldn't, Manning could face the truth that the chances were high that Elliot would never see the former Catherine Chandler again.
After seeing that Tallenger made good his word to inform the staff of Cleon’s authorization and access to the facility, Elliot Burch left Pinewillow. The entire meeting had taken less than an hour. It was his first visit to the facility since he had entrusted them with Catherine's care, and it would be his last. On the short flight back to his Manhattan office he made two phone calls: one to his lawyer and the other to a close friend in Buffalo, who also happened to be Chairman of the Board of Directors for Pinewillow. Later that day, authorization was issued to his bank to discontinue the transfer of funds from the account of Elliot Lloyd Burch to the Pinewillow Convalescent Center; and soon after, Daniel Tallenger received a phone call in which he was summarily relieved of all duties as chief administrator without pay, pending an in-depth investigation. The Senior Nursing Supervisor - a Betty Carlisle - was then promoted to the position of Acting Chief Administrator.
As the plane neared the familiar skyline of Manhattan, Elliot looked out the window at the clouds and thought of Catherine. There had been few occasions in his lifetime when he had made unconditional promises. He had learned early on that promises were empty unless one had the means to back them up; unless one could tip the scale to make the promise come true. He had promised to help Catherine as she lay in the coma, too helpless to protect herself. He had kept the promise to her, but he had then made one to himself: to do whatever it took to finally make things work between them. He knew it was a long shot, but in truth, he was still in love with her. Thus, it was no simple matter when, in the privacy of his plane, he was now forced to face the fact that he would probably never see Catherine again. To have wealth and power and still not possess the one thing he most desired was a bitter pill for a man like Elliot Burch to swallow. He had always believed that if she ever came through the coma, theirs would be a new beginning. Now that she had left Pinewillow, the promise of a life with Catherine was all but lost to him, unless somehow she remembered and chose to seek him out. It had taken her nearly two years to wake up. How long would it take her to remember her past . . . to remember him? And what guarantee did he have that she would seek him out first, rather than her beloved Vincent.
With infinite sadness, he closed his eyes and contemplated the fact that he should never have made that promise. The odds had never been in his favor when it came to loving Catherine Chandler.