Texas Bad Boy(3)

By: Jean Brashear

This wasn’t personal. He couldn’t let it be. Nothing he did could regain the lost years, could repair the awful sense of impotence…of teetering on the brink…of being one of the nameless, faceless poor after their precipitous fall from grace when his father suffered a fatal heart attack, one step away from being jailed for fraud.

They’d held onto their dignity with white-knuckled hands, but Dev still remembered all too well the nights the scared boy he’d once been had dug claws into his sides to keep from giving in to unmanly sobs. The angry teenager who had fought Charles DeMille’s disdain, his hold on Dev’s mother. The young lover whose perfect revenge had turned into his worst defeat.

The man he was now knew that he’d been forged in the fire of his family’s needs. He’d served his time in the military and come back to take them away to Dallas. He’d worked hard, two and three jobs, to support them. He’d built a business and made it successful. He’d found his way on his own and was better off for it.

All that was in the past. This was a job, a special duty for valued friends. Reuniting a woman with siblings she didn’t know she had. He would do it as cleanly as possible, and then go to the next case.

Lacey’s adoption had been done by less-than-legal means and covered up in a way only money and power could manage. Charles DeMille had plenty of both.

It was easy now to see why no one had known. Dev was almost certain that even Lacey had no idea she was adopted—the girl who had walked away because he wasn’t good enough for her blue blood. The girl who had betrayed him, who had chosen a life of ease over his love. Who had taught him a lesson so painful he remembered it still.

It was too rich that Devlin Marlowe would be the one to tell her that her blood was no better than his.

What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive…Lacey DeMille’s whole life was defined by her parents’ lies. She stood on quicksand and didn’t even know it.

Sleeping Beauty was about to be awakened, one way or another.

But not with a kiss.

And no one had ever called Devlin Marlowe a prince.

Lacey stood with her date, Philip Forrester, and her parents, watching the auction as though she’d had no part in creating it. Her mind drifted to Christina, the little girl for whom she volunteered as a child advocate. To the contrasts between their lives…her own so privileged, so unearned.

The demands of that life sometimes choked Lacey. A part of her wanted badly to care nothing about how she looked or behaved, to run free like a ruffian and just be Lacey, not Lacey of the River Oaks DeMilles.

From her earliest days, she had known she must not. Never said aloud, nonetheless she had always known that she was held to a higher standard. That she had to be very careful not to slip.

But though she sometimes chafed at the propriety required, she loved her parents deeply and knew they loved her. It was bedrock. She was a DeMille.

“Agnes is pleased with your handling of the gala,” her mother Margaret murmured.

Her mother’s friend Agnes was a tyrant, but Lacey merely smiled. “I think things are going well.” It all seemed so superficial, after what she’d seen today—but the funds she raised would go to the Child Advocacy Center.

“You and Philip will drop by our little gathering week after next?”

Little gathering didn’t quite do justice to Margaret’s annual cocktail reception for four hundred, held the night before a hospital fund-raiser. “Certainly,” Lacey responded. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

“You make a lovely couple.”

Of course they did. Margaret had hand-picked Philip as her latest bid for Lacey to marry and settle down to raise the next generation of DeMilles. A prominent young plastic surgeon with blue blood of his own, suave blond Philip Forrester was considered quite a catch.

Except by her. She couldn’t seem to convince her parents that they wouldn’t marry.

“Lacey, are you all right?” Philip asked.

“What?” She stirred. Around them the crowd buzzed, and Lacey realized that her item had been called as next up for bidding. “Oh—yes. Just fine.”

Philip leaned down and whispered, “So where shall I take this fabulous picnic you’re auctioning? Will you actually prepare it with your own hands?”

Lacey met his smile with one of her own. “You’d like it better if I let Clarise do the cooking.”

“You don’t need to learn to cook. We’ll have our own servants.”

“Philip, we aren’t—” He, like everyone else, assumed.

His glance grazed her. “Please, Lacey. Not tonight.”

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