Harry sighed. “Damn. That explains it. He gives up his degree, and all over a woman. Why would she do that? Why tell him to go into the Army?”
“Who knows?” Cal shrugged like it no longer mattered, the sad look in his eyes turning back to the devil-may-care expression he wore like a mask. “Maybe she wanted to get rid of him. Wes could be annoying. Sera was one of the cool kids in high school. By that time Wes was in a private school. He would have been back in Papillon after he graduated. Maybe she didn’t want the nerd to ruin her social life. None of it made sense to me, but Mom blames Sera for Wes’s death, and she will not like Sera setting up house in our backyard no matter how big that yard is. She’ll put the pressure on if what I heard is true. Though if Sera really has all that gold, she might make it a fight. Either way, it’ll be interesting.”
He didn’t like to think about the woman with the high-voltage smile convincing his cousin to drop out of college, but he’d known women who lived to manipulate. Men, too. They weren’t happy unless they were in control, and sometimes they drew satisfaction from ruining lives.
It didn’t make sense, but it didn’t have to because he was going to stay away from Seraphina. He wasn’t going to cause a rift in his family over a woman he’d barely met. “Well, I’m going to work on a couple of things. I’ll be out in the shop.”
“I’ll be in the media room. The Saints are playing. Come on up if you want to hang,” Cal offered. “And I was serious about tonight. We’re going to this bar outside of town. You’ll like it.”
He probably wouldn’t, but at least he would know his cousin would get home all right. He pushed his chair back and started to pick up his plate. The maid was at his side before he could take a step. She took the plate out of his hand and swept away the mug.
“Thank you,” he said.
She didn’t look back.
It was a strange, strange world. He was happy when he and Shep got out to the shop and back to work.* * ****
Celeste stepped out of the dining room and forced herself to take a deep breath. She wasn’t going to get emotional. When had it gotten hard to shove her feelings down? She’d had years to perfect the fine art of swallowing down every bit of rage, sucking up all her sorrow, and curbing her joy.
It might be Harry causing it all. Seeing him again, having him in her life, reminded her of who she’d been before she’d got it in her head that she could be someone else, someone more.
“Oh, she talks about him but it’s usually to let me know it would have been better if I’d died instead of Wes.”
The words floated out of the dining room, causing Celeste to stop in her tracks. Cal. Cal was talking.
“That’s not true.” Her daughter’s voice was quieter.
“Really?” Celeste could practically see the expression on Cal’s face. He would be staring at his sister with that arrogant look he’d inherited from his father. “And when she said, You know I wish Wes was here instead of you—what do you think that was a metaphor for?”
She forced back the need to walk into the dining room and apologize. One foot in front of the other. The maid walked by and Celeste nodded as though she hadn’t just heard her son talk about how terrible she was.
She’d stopped drinking the day after that terrible night. Oh, she would have a sip or two of wine, but she wouldn’t indulge. Indulgence had led to her mask slipping and her rage spilling out and striking her children. Cal had every right to be angry with her.
She hadn’t mentioned it since that stiff apology, but her words were obviously still there and she had no idea how to address them except to give him some space. She wouldn’t say a thing about him taking Harry out tonight. Honestly, she felt better with Harry there, his steady hand keeping Cal in check.
She glanced in the mirror. The face staring back was practically perfect, but that thought gave her no comfort. It was a mask.
Shouldn’t a person’s face change over time? Not that she’d allowed it. The first time her husband had mentioned the lines around her eyes, she’d gone to the plastic surgeon and had them taken care of. Every line or wrinkle was dealt with ruthlessly because perfection was the only proper outcome.
No one should be able to see her age, her grief, her happiness.
Her lipstick had faded. It wasn’t the vibrant red she always wore. Her signature.