Texas Bad Boy(10)

By: Jean Brashear

Dev knocked on the door of the frame house that his mother had lived in for twelve years.

Muffled by the door, a voice called out, “Come on in.”

He turned the knob and stepped inside, bracing in reflex. Waiting…always expecting his mother’s four-month sobriety to have come to an end.

But the scent of coffee, not liquor, greeted him on this Sunday morning after his return from Houston.

Coffee…and the sight of his mother sitting on the living room floor surrounded by boxes, holding a tie in her hands, a wistful smile on her face.

Monique Marlowe looked up. “Do you remember this? Your father called it his lucky tie. Wore it whenever he had to deal with IRS or a difficult client.” She held it out to him.

Dev stepped over boxes and squatted down beside her, worried at the moisture glistening on her lashes. “You could leave this stuff to us, Mom. We’ll go through it.”

Her once-black hair had gone snow-white suddenly, as if her battle with the bottle had drained everything from her. “No, Devlin. These are my memories. It’s taken me almost twenty years to face them. I need to deal with them myself.” She stroked one finger down the tie, an unremarkable regimental in shades of navy and burgundy.

And suddenly, Dev did remember it, knotted around Patrick Marlowe’s neck. For one instant, he could feel his father’s hand clap his shoulder, could see the green eyes he’d inherited sparkling with pride as his father spoke. Will you look at this boy, Monique? He’ll be as tall as me soon. Our Dev is growing up.

Dev had probably been twelve, three years away from the worst day of his life.

At least, the worst day until he and Lacey—

“Would you like to have the tie, Devlin?”

“No.” He saw the hurt in her eyes at his curt tone. He shook his head and exhaled. “I’m sorry. I drove in from Houston, got here just before seven.” And still couldn’t get any damn sleep. “You have any coffee made, Mom? Then I’ll give you a hand here.”

His mother held out a hand for assistance, and Dev tugged her to her feet, the grace she’d never lost, even at her worst, still evident.

Monique Marlowe had been a lovely drunk. She’d never turned slovenly, had coped—in her own way. If she couldn’t handle four children or the realities of a life of poverty, still she’d held on to the one thing that had always been hers—her beauty. At sixty-two, she bore some lines of age, but she was still too beautiful to be a grandmother.

But thank God she was. Dierdre’s child had been the surprising magic that had transformed her. Had given her what her children could not: a reason to stay sober.

“Poor Devlin,” she murmured, reaching up to stroke his cheek. “You work too hard.” The lovely blue eyes turned uncertain, and she looked down at her hands. “All this has made me think about a lot of things. I—I’ve never apologized to you, son. It wasn’t right what I did when Patrick—” Her eyelashes batted rapidly, but a single tear spilled over.

Dev clasped her slender shoulders. “Don’t, Mom. It’s over. You’re doing well, and that’s all that matters.” What was done was done…and his own emotions were stretched too thin to have this discussion after last night.

After Lacey.

He wasn’t ready to rehash the past. Not now. Not when he still carried the feel of Lacey’s slim hand in his, when those silvery eyes wouldn’t let him sleep.

“I still don’t understand it. The Patrick I knew was no crook. He was so angry, so hurt, so—” She looked up at her son, blue eyes swimming with pain. “It literally killed him, the disgrace.”

“He had a weak heart, Mom. He was under a lot of stress.” With the Securities and Exchange Commission findings of fraud, his father’s whole career had been on the line. Even if he’d escaped conviction, he’d never have worked in a high-powered accounting firm like DeMille & Marshall again.

She gripped his sleeve. “But do you believe he did it?”

Dev was too tired for this discussion. Too many years had passed, and he’d been so young. All he’d known was that his father was dead, that with shocking suddenness, their expansive lifestyle had crashed around them. No more soccer games. No more vacations. Only the grim struggle to survive.

Only the shame.

But his mother’s gaze still pinned him, waiting for a response.

“I don’t know what to think. All I cared about back then was getting my driver’s license.” He’d forgotten that—how driving had seemed all-important at fifteen.

He patted her hand. “It doesn’t matter, Mom. None of it matters now. We go forward, isn’t that what they tell you in your meetings? You’re doing great. Don’t let the past snare you in its trap.”

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