Page 61 of Bayou Hero

Was he dead? God, Landry hoped not, but he’d been so damned lost the last time he’d seen him.

Another sin to lay at their fathers’ feet.

Plus a prayer that Jeffrey had cleaned up, changed his name and moved to a nice little town where he’d met a nice little girl who healed hearts and souls.

Alia deciphered the next set of scratches. “The Anderson daughter committed suicide, like you said. Straight-A student, all kinds of activities—everyone loved her, teachers and students alike. She’d been scheduled to begin classes at Tulane that fall. Too close to home, maybe?”

“Wouldn’t it be for you?”

Her expression darkened, became implacable and driven and just a little bewildered. That was the part of her, he knew, that was asking, How could they do this?

He’d asked how and why a thousand times. Had begged them to stop at least a thousand times.

Clearing her throat, she went back to her notes. “Grayson’s daughters. The older one is married to another of New Orleans’s golden boys. Her husband has very public affairs, but she keeps a stiff upper lip and stands by her man. She has a ten-year-old son who’s been kicked out of two schools and is currently enrolled in a military-type boarding school. Her daughter is seven and goes to private school. The family goes to church with Mom and Dad, is regularly seen at Commander’s Palace with them for Sunday brunch and lives a block or two away.

“Daughter number two is a barely functioning alcoholic. Divorced twice, one son who’s five and living with his father’s family. Doesn’t work, apparently supported by her family—a little blackmail there, you think?—and though she claims New Orleans as home, she spends most of her time traveling elsewhere.”

Man, they were a depressing bunch, Landry thought. Coming from fine, respectable families, backed by power and influence and wealth—and a dozen loser kids.

Except Mary Ellen. All she’d ever wanted was to get married and raise babies and be happy. It had taken a while, but she’d achieved those dreams.

And he was all he’d ever wanted. He had a job he liked. He took care of himself. The only family he wanted was the one he chose for himself. The past was, most of the time, in the past, where he no longer had nightmares about it. His only true regret at this very moment was Miss Viola’s death.

How many men could claim only one regret?

Well, make that two, he thought with a glance at Alia. She was off-limits now but maybe someday...

“The Gaudette kids,” she said, her tone sounding as if she was glad they were getting to the end. “The oldest daughter went to college in Virginia, married a man from London, moved there and stayed. According to Facebook and the mommy blog she does with her friends, she’s happy and productive and fiercely vocal on the matter of child abuse laws, there, here, everywhere.”

That one’s going to run the world, her mother used to proudly say at those family dinners.

Or ruin it, her father had always muttered to the other men, who’d laughed.

“The second kid still lives in the area. She runs a no-kill animal shelter with her girlfriend. Her only presence online is for the shelter—fund-raisers, features on adoptable pets. She’s never been arrested, keeps her life private. She visits her sister in London once every year or so but doesn’t seem to have contact with her parents. The parents do, however, make a sizable donation to the shelter every year. Gets them platinum status on the website.”

“Her father always believed if you threw enough money at a problem, it would eventually go away.”

“Last ones. Daughter number three isn’t on the radar, not since she spent two years in a psychiatric hospital about five years ago. She left Louisiana for California—that’s where the hospital was—and never moved back. She’s living a totally unremarkable life there with a boyfriend and four cats. The son never married, has three kids, all in the custody of their mothers. He was in an accident a few years ago—motorcycle versus semi—and is a paraplegic. He lives, God love him, with Mom and Dad.”

“Is that his punishment or theirs?”

“You could make an argument either way.” Alia folded the paper again, creasing the lines. “You’re surprised by how much you remember.”

Draining the last of the beer, he pointed the bottle at her. “I tried for years to forget every last detail. After years of therapy, I found a balance I could live with.”

“Until the past week upset the balance.”

“It did that.” He shook his head ruefully.

After a moment, she met his gaze. “It seems you and Mary Ellen and the mommy blogger and her sister survived the best. No drugs, no arrests, no drinking—”

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