Page 76 of Bayou Hero

A coward? For not wanting to face his brutal father? It saddened her that he’d ever thought such a thing.

“You were a brave kid, Landry, and stronger than most people ever become. And now you won’t have to face the bastard ever again. The Jackson/Davison family can be normal again, one big happy family. One set of birthday parties, one set of holidays.” Mention of holidays reminded her of something Jimmy had brought up earlier. Where have these bastards been getting their thrills since their own kids grew up?

The thought sent a shiver of dread through her, despite the heat radiating from Landry’s body. In the thirty hours or so between him telling her about the abuse and Jimmy asking that question, her entire focus had been on the victims in the distant past. She’d never given a second’s thought to later, probably even current, victims.

Rising to lean on her right arm, she gave him a troubled look. “Those birthdays and holidays Mary Ellen spent with your parents...” Oh, God, she didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to put even the whisper of a possibility into his mind, but it was a valid question. An urgent question. “Were they limited to Mary Ellen’s family and your parents? How did the admiral interact with the kids? How much time did he get...alone...with...”

Rage darkened Landry’s face, his body frozen with it, his breathing stilled by it. “No,” he said, but it wasn’t even a whisper, no voice, no substance, just denial. “No. She might pretend it never happened, but surely somewhere inside she knows better than to leave him alone with her babies. She would never, ever let anyone hurt the girls. Never.”

He stopped abruptly, his face taking on a sickly tinge. “They’ve been doing it all this time, haven’t they? It wasn’t some sort of game they played while it was convenient, then gave up when it wasn’t. They’ve been finding other kids...”

He lunged out of bed and for the door. A moment later, Alia heard the retching as he emptied his stomach in the bathroom. She sat up, sheet tucked under her arms, her eyes closed. There was a reason she’d never made a go of child sex crimes investigations. Her days would have been filled with heartbreaking interviews with victims, kicking the living crap out of suspects, losing her job for use of excessive force and puking out her guts every night. There were people, thank God, who did it, who had that strength, but she wasn’t one of them.

After a moment, he came back into the room, walked to the windows, pushed aside the curtains and stared out. He seemed unaware that he was naked, lightning giving tempting views of his lean muscled body before shadow enveloped him again. He was gorgeous. Glorious.

And he was breaking her heart.

“The first time...” Between the wind, rain and thunder, his voice was barely audible.

“I wanted to die.”

Alia drew her knees to her chest and hugged them tightly. Every breath of the woman inside her wanted to go to him, wrap her arms around him, tell him he didn’t have to go on, tell him everything would be all right and bring him back to bed.

The cop in her held back. Talking was one of the hardest things any victim ever had to do. If he was able to share these ugly, painful memories with her, the least she could do was listen.

“Finally I learned to just take it.” His voice was heavy with derision.

“One Saturday evening, just before my fifteenth birthday, he told me and Mary Ellen to be ready by eight. Mom was already so drunk she couldn’t stand up by herself. She got that way a lot when he was home for weekends. Mary Ellen whispered that she didn’t feel good and asked Mom if she could stay home. Camilla just looked away from her, as if she didn’t even hear, but her face turned bright red, as if she was ashamed of herself.”

Alia let herself imagine the conversation: the exclusive neighborhood, the beautiful house, the lovely room filled with priceless antiques, the three tormented people and Jeremiah, Satan in disguise. She could smell the gin and the anger and the fear, could see the tension vibrating the air.

“Mary Ellen started to cry. That always set Jeremiah off in a rage, so I stepped up and said, ‘I’m not going.’”

What a shock that must have been to the admiral, so accustomed to giving commands and seeing them followed. That his own son would dare say no, would make a stand, must have touched off every spore of his rich-white-male-officer sense of entitlement.

“I thought he was going to kill me. I grabbed Mary Ellen and dragged her upstairs and locked us in my room. He would have caught us before we made it to the door, but Mom jumped from her chair and stumbled against him. He had to get her out of the way before he could follow us, and by then we’d barricaded the bedroom door with the dresser. It was the only time she ever intervened.” A note of surprise, even wonder, softened his voice as he turned to look at her. “I’d forgotten that.”