Authors: Rachel Gibson
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Love Stories, #Inheritance and Succession, #Beauty Operators, #Idaho
He hated not being in control.
He poured himself a bourbon and looked out the small window above his work bench. The setting sun hung just above Shaw Mountain, named after Henry’s ancestors who’d settled the rich valley below. Sharp gray shadows sliced across the valley toward Lake Mary, named for Henry’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Shaw.
More than Henry hated God and disease and not being in control, he hated friggin‘ doctors. They poked and prodded until they found something wrong, and none of them had ever said a damn thing he’d wanted to hear. Each time he’d tried to prove them wrong, but in the end he never had.
Henry splashed linseed oil on some old cotton rags and set them in a cardboard box. He’d always planned to have a passel of grandchildren by now, but he didn’t have a one. He was the last Shaw. The last in a long line of an old and respected family. The Shaws were nearly extinct, and it ate a hole in his gut. There was no one to carry his blood after he was gone ... no one except Nick.
He sat down in an old office chair and raised the bourbon to his lips. He would be the first to admit he’d wronged that boy. For several years now, he’d tried to make it up to his son. But Nick was a stubborn, unforgiving man. Just as he’d been a defiant unlovable boy.
If Henry had more time, he was sure he and his son could have come to some sort of understanding. But he didn’t have time, and Nick didn’t make it easy. In fact, Nick made it damn hard to even like him.
He remembered the day Nick’s mother, Benita Allegrezza, had pounded on his front door, claiming Henry had fathered the black-haired baby in her arms. Henry had turned his attention from Benita’s dark gaze to the big blue eyes of his wife, Ruth, who had stood beside him.
He’d denied it like hell. Of course, there had been a real good chance that what Benita claimed was true, but he’d denied even the possibility. Even if Henry hadn’t been married, he never would have chosen to have a child with a Basque woman. Those people were too dark, too volatile, and too religious for his taste. He’d wanted white, blond-haired babies. He didn’t want his kids confused for wet-backs. Oh, he knew Basques weren’t Mexicans, but they all looked alike to him.
If it hadn’t been for Benita’s brother, Josu, no one would have known about his affair with the young widow. But that sheep-loving bastard had tried to blackmail him into recognizing Nick as his son. He’d thought Josu had been bluffing when the man had come to him and threatened to tell everyone in town that Henry had taken advantage of his grieving sister and had knocked her up. He’d ignored the threat, but Josu hadn’t been bluffing. Again Henry had denied paternity.
But by the time Nick was five, he looked enough like a Shaw that no one believed Henry anymore. Not even Ruth. She’d divorced him and taken half his money.
But back then, he’d still had time. He’d been in his late thirties. Still a young man.
Henry picked up a .357 and slipped six bullets into the cylinder. After Ruth, he’d found his second wife, Gwen. Even though Gwen had been a poor unwed mother of questionable parentage, he’d married her for several reasons. She obviously wasn’t barren, as he’d suspected of Ruth, and she was so beautiful she made him ache. She and her daughter had been so grateful to him, and so easy to mold into what he wanted. But in the end, his stepdaughter had disappointed him bitterly, and the one thing he wanted most from Gwen, she had failed to give him. After years of marriage, she hadn’t given him a legitimate heir.
Henry spun the cylinder then looked down at the revolver in his hand. With the barrel of the pistol, he pushed the box of linseed rags closer to the space heater. He didn’t want anyone to clean up the mess after he was gone. The song he’d been waiting to hear crackled through the speakers, and he cranked up the eight-track player as Johnny sang about falling into a burning ring of fire.
His eyes got a little misty when he thought of his life and the people he would leave behind. It was a damn shame he wouldn’t be around to see the looks on their faces when they discovered what he’d done.
Henry Shaw would have taken one look at the line of cars backed up to the gated entrance of Salvation Cemetery, and he would have regarded the respectable turnout as somewhat less than his due. Until he’d been voted out of office last year in favor of that yellow-dog Democrat George Tanasee, he’d been mayor of Truly, Idaho for over twenty-four years.
Henry had been a big man in the small community. He’d owned half the businesses and had more money then the whole town combined. Shortly after his first wife had divorced him twenty-six years ago, he’d gone out and replaced her with the prettiest woman he could find. He’d owned the finest pair of Weimaraners in the state, Duke and Dolores, and until recently, he’d lived in the biggest house in town. But that had been before those Allegrezza boys had started building all over the damn place. He’d had a stepdaughter too, but he hadn’t talked about her in years.
Henry had loved his position in the community. He’d been warm and generous to the people who’d agreed with his opinions, but if you weren’t Henry’s friend, you were his enemy. Those who’d dared to challenge him usually regretted it. He’d been a pompous, redneck son of a bitch, and when they’d pulled his charred remains from the inferno which had claimed his life, there were some members of the community who felt that Henry Shaw got exactly what he deserved.
“To the earth we give the body of our loved one. Henry’s life ...”
Delaney Shaw, Henry’s stepdaughter, listened to the bland Muzak quality in Reverend Tippet’s voice and cast a sideways glance at her mother. The soft shadows of bereavement looked good on Gwen Shaw, but Delaney wasn’t surprised. Her mother looked good in everything. She always had. Delaney returned her gaze to the spray of yellow roses on Henry’s casket. The bright June sun shot sparks off the polished mahogany and shiny brass hardware. She reached inside the pocket of the mint green suit she’d borrowed from her mother and found her sunglasses. Sliding the tortoiseshell frame onto her face, she hid from the sun’s stabbing rays and the curious glances of the people around her. She straightened her shoulders and took several long deep breaths. She hadn’t been home for ten years. She’d always meant to come back and make her peace with Henry. Now it was too late.
A light breeze tossed red and gold streaked curls about her face, and she pushed her chin-length hair behind her ears. She should have tried. She shouldn’t have stayed away for so long. She shouldn’t have allowed so many years to pass, but she’d never thought he’d die. Not Henry. The last time she’d seen him, they’d said some horrible things to each other. His anger had been so fierce, she could still remember it clearly.
A sound like the wrath of God rolled in the distance, and Delaney raised her gaze to the heavens, half expecting to see thunder and lightning bolts, certain the arrival of a man like Henry had created turbulence in paradise. The sky remained a clear blue, but the rumbling continued, drawing her attention to the iron gates of the cemetery.
Straddling gleaming black lacquer and shimmering chrome, windblown hair tousled about broad shoulders, a lone biker bore down on the crowd gathered to bid their farewells. The monster engine vibrated the ground and shook the air, the act of committal suffocated by a set of bad-dog pipes. Dressed in faded jeans and a soft white T-shirt, the biker slowed and brought the Harley to a rumbling stop in front of the gray hearse. The engine died, and his boot heel scraped the asphalt as he laid the bike on its kickstand. Then in one smooth motion, he rose. Several days’ growth of beard darkened a strong jaw and cheeks, drawing attention to a firm mouth. A small gold hoop pierced his earlobe while a pair of platinum Oakley’s concealed his eyes.
There was something vaguely familiar about the bad-ass biker. Something about his smooth olive skin and black hair, but Delaney couldn’t place him.
“Oh, my God,” her mother gasped beside her. “I can’t believe he dared to show up dressed like that.”
Her incredulity was shared by other mourners who had the bad manners to break into loud whispers.
“Always has been bad to the bone.”
Levi’s caressed his firm thighs, cupped his crotch, and covered his long legs in soft denim. The warm breeze flattened his shirt against his broad muscular chest. Delaney lifted her gaze to his face again. Slowly he removed the sunglasses from the bridge of his straight nose and shoved them into the front pocket of his T-shirt. His light gray eyes stared directly back at her.
Delaney’s heart stopped and her bones fused. She recognized those eyes burning a hole in her. They were the exact copy of his Irish father’s but much more startling because they were set in a face typical of his Basque heritage.
Nick Allegrezza, the source of her girlhood fascinations and the origin of her disillusions. Nick, the slick-talking, smooth-tongued snake. He stood with his weight on one foot as if he didn’t notice the stir he’d caused. More than likely he
notice and simply didn’t care. Delaney had been gone ten years, but some things obviously hadn’t changed. Nick had filled out and his features had matured, but his presence still attracted attention.
Reverend Tippet bowed his head. “Let us pray for Henry Shaw,” he began. Delaney tucked her chin and closed her eyes. Even as a child, Nick had attracted more than his share of attention. His older brother Louie had been wild too, but Louie had never been as wild as Nick. Everyone knew the Allegrezza brothers were crazy, impulsive Bascos, quick-fingered and as horny as parolees.
Every girl in town had been warned to stay far away from the brothers, but like lemmings to the sea, many had succumbed to the call of the wild and thrown themselves at “those Basque boys.” Nick had earned the added reputation for charming virgins out of their undies. But he hadn’t charmed Delaney. Contrary to popular belief, she hadn’t knocked boots with Nick Allegrezza. He hadn’t taken
Not technically anyway.
“Amen,” the mourners recited as one.
“Yeah. Amen,” Delaney uttered, feeling a bit guilty for her irreverent thoughts during a prayer to God. She glanced over the top of her sunglasses, and her eyes narrowed. She watched Nick’s lips move as he made a quick sign of the cross. He was Catholic of course, like the other Basque families in the area. Still, it seemed sacrilegious to see such an overtly sexual, long-haired, earring-wearing
cross himself as if he were a priest. Then as if he had all day, he lifted his gaze up the front of Delaney’s suit to her face. For an instant, something flickered in his eyes, but just as quickly it was gone, and his attention was drawn to a blond woman in a pink slip dress by his side. She raised on her toes and whispered something into his ear.
Mourners crowded around Delaney and her mother, stopping to give their condolences before moving toward their cars. She lost sight of Nick and turned to people passing in front of her. She recognized most of Henry’s friends, who paused to speak to her, but saw very few faces under the age of fifty. She smiled and nodded and shook hands, hating every minute of their close scrutiny. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to be by herself so she could think about Henry and the good times. She wanted to remember Henry before they’d disappointed each other so terribly. But she knew she wouldn’t get the opportunity until much later. She was emotionally exhausted, and by the time she and her mother made their way to the limousine that would take them back home, she wanted nothing more than to hibernate.
The rumble of Nick’s Harley drew her attention and she glanced over her shoulder at him. He revved the engine twice then flipped a U and gunned the big bike. Delaney’s brows lowered as she watch him shoot past, her eyes focused on the blond pressed against his back like a human suction cup. He’d picked up a woman at Henry’s funeral, picked her up as if he were out trolling bars. Delaney didn’t recognize her, but she wasn’t really surprised to see a woman leaving the funeral with Nick. Nothing was sacred to him. Nothing off limits.
She climbed into the limousine and sank into plush velvet seats. Henry was dead, but nothing had changed.
“That was a real nice service, don’t you think?”
Gwen asked, interrupting Delaney’s thoughts as the car pulled away from the gravesite and headed toward Highway 55.
Delaney kept her gaze on the blue flashes of Lake Mary barely visible through dense pine forest. “Yes,” she answered, then turned her attention to her mother. “It was real nice.”
“Henry loved you. He just didn’t know how to compromise.”
They’d had this same discussion many times, and Delaney didn’t feel like talking about it. The conversation always began and ended the same, yet nothing ever got resolved. “How many people do you think will show up?” she asked, referring to the after-funeral buffet.
“Most everyone, I imagine.” Gwen reached across the distance that separated them and pushed the sides of Delaney’s hair behind her ears.
Delaney half expected her mother to wet her fingers and make spit curls on her forehead as she’d done when Delaney had been a child. She’d hated it then, and she hated it now. The constant fixing, as if she wasn’t good enough the way she was. The constant fussing, as if she could be made into something she wasn’t.
No. Nothing had changed.
“I’m so glad you’re home, Laney.”
Delaney felt suffocated and pressed the electric window switch. She breathed in the fresh mountain air and let it out slowly. Two days, she told herself. She could go home in two days.
Last week, she’d received notification that she was named in Henry’s will. After the way they’d parted, she couldn’t imagine why he’d included her. She wondered if he’d included Nick, too, or if he would ignore his son, even after his death.
Briefly she wondered if Henry had left her money or property. More than likely it was some kind of a gag gift, like an old rusted fishing boat or a stuffed mackinaw. Whatever it was didn’t matter, she was leaving directly after the will was read. Now all she had to do was gather the courage to tell her mother. Maybe she’d call her from a pay phone somewhere around Salt Lake City. Until then, she planned to look up some of her old girlfriends, hit a few local bars, and wait it out until she could head home to the big city where she could breathe. She knew if she stayed more than a few days, she’d lose her mind—or worse, herself.