Her Lover's Legacy

By: Adrianne Byrd

Chapter 1

It was the second-worst day of Malcolm Braddock’s life. The first was three days ago when he received the news about his father’s fatal car crash. Ever since then, he’d been walking around numb and talking in a daze.

Now, Malcolm tightened his grip around his mother’s shoulders and watched the ever-graceful Evelyn Braddock draw her chin higher and somehow keep her shimmering tears from streaking down her ageless face. A forty-year marriage over without a single warning.

His baby sister, Shondra, was another story. Though to a stranger’s eye she looked calm, cool and collected, anyone who knew Shawnie wouldn’t have missed the dull listlessness of her brown eyes or the dark circles that now seemed to ring them permanently, the puffy red nose rubbed raw from endless wiping. She was falling apart.

Malcolm ground his molars together, anger and helplessness finally penetrating his numb armor. Thank God for his brother, Tyson, an unexpected and welcome Rock of Gibraltar who anchored the family and kept it together.

As the eldest son, that should have been Malcolm’s job.

A fine mist of rain descended from Texas’s slate-gray sky while fat thunderclouds gathered menacingly above the large group of mourners surrounding Congressman Harmon Braddock’s grave site. Reverend Vereen made his appeals to the heavens about mercy and forgiveness, but Malcolm had tuned all that out when the black-and-chrome casket began its descent into the freshly turned earth.

Acidic tears burned Malcolm’s eyes while his breath stalled in his lungs. No! Wait! I’m not ready yet. But time, like it had for the past three days, refused to stop and wait for him to catch up.

His father was dead.

“In sure and in certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life through our Lord,” the Reverend intoned, “we commit Brother Harmon Braddock to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”

Malcolm closed his eyes and blocked out the rest of the Burial Rite.

When it was all over, mourners cloistered around the family, once again offering their condolences. Many, if not most, Malcolm recognized as his father’s political allies, supporters and even adversaries. Their slick hands and painted-on smiles turned his stomach, but he knew it was all a part of the game—even for Houston local media outlets filming a comfortable distance away.

“Your father was a great man.” Senator Ray Cayman’s strong, wiry hand pressed into Malcolm’s. “I know the last two years—”

“Yes. Thank you, Senator,” Malcolm said in a near growl, and freed his hand from the steel grip. He knew the direction the conversation was headed and he didn’t want to go there. Not now. Probably never.

If Cayman was offended, it didn’t show in his weathered mahogany features. Actually, Malcolm couldn’t remember a time when the distinguished septuagenarian showed his true emotions, but he knew his cool brown eyes missed nothing.

With a slight nod, Cayman stepped aside and in his place a tall African-American man with unusual Asian-shaped eyes shook his hand. “Sorry for your loss,” he said with a curt nod, and then moved on.

The line of endless faces continued, and Malcolm returned to feeling more like a marble statue than a man still among the living.

Just then, Bruce Hanlon stepped up to Malcolm. “You know your father was like a brother to me,” Bruce stressed. The comment almost wrestled a smile from Malcolm. Nobody would have mistaken the affluent blue-eyed judge and the rich ebony-hued Harmon Braddock as brothers, but the two had always been as thick as thieves as far back as Malcolm could remember.

“He loved you,” Hanlon added, refusing to relinquish their handshake until Malcolm met his sharp gaze. “You know that, don’t you?”

Did he? Malcolm pressed his lips together and gave the judge a firm nod. It was the best he could do.

A familiar melodious voice floated on the air. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

He caught sight of his father’s assistant, Gloria Kingsley, talking to his brother, Ty, and his wife, Felicia. Malcolm’s chest tightened as he watched Gloria’s beautiful golden eyes turn toward Shawnie, her arms wrapping around his sister in shared comfort.

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