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The doorbell rang at nine o'clock. Corrine knew it would be Matt, bringing Kira home from her regular weekend visit with him. He was right on time, as always.
"Come on in," Corrine called.
She heard his key turn in the lock. The front door opened and shut with a soft click. And then silence, except for the creak of a loose floorboard under his feet. The lack of happy chatter, of "Mommy, we're home!" told her that Kira must be asleep.
Matt stuck his head around the wall that marked off the entry, his straight brows drawing briefly together at the sight of Corrine on the couch, knees drawn up under her chin, ten half-full wine bottles arrayed on the coffee table in front of her. "She's conked out," he whispered.
Their daughter was draped over his shoulder, her legs, in her favorite pair of pink footed pajamas, dangling loose. At Matt's whisper, Kira lifted her blond head, yawned hugely and then turned her face the other way, nuzzling against his neck with a contented little sigh.
"Carry her on up?" Corrine mouthed the words, gesturing at the stairway behind him.
Matt turned and went up. Corrine watched him go. Kira's little feet swayed gently with each step. Once he disappeared from sight, she settled her chin on her knees again and stared at the mess she really should start clearing up.
She was still sitting there, in the same position, when Matt came back down the stairs a few minutes later. He went straight to the fireplace and turned his back to the flames.
"Cold out there?" She gave him a lazy smile.
"Oh, yeah." It was supposed to get below freezing that night, rare for San Antonio in early November.
"Kirawake up when you put her to bed?"
"She didn't even open her eyes."
"The usual. Lessons on Saturday." Kira took tap and ballet, karate and modern dance. She went to kindergarten and day care at the best Montessori school in SA. These were just a few of the many benefits that came from having a rich, hardworking daddy and a mom who ran a successful business of her own. "We went to a movie Saturday night," he added. "Today, I took her out to the ranch." Bravo Ridge, his family's ranch, was a short ride north of SA, on the southwestern edge of the Hill Country.
Corrine lowered her knees to the side and tucked them in close. "Your mom still at the ranch?"
"How was she?"
He shrugged. "She seemed okay, but you know how she is, always trying to put the best face on things."
Corrine let out a small sigh of understanding. "So true…"
And then he did what she'd been waiting for him to do. He gestured at all those bottles on the coffee table. "And what the hell, Corrie? Pastor Bob know about this?" His tone was teasing, but she didn't miss the underlying note of disapproval.
She resisted the urge to say something snippy and settled for simply putting him in his place. "I'm not drunk, not even buzzed—and if I was, it's not like I'm driving anywhere. And don't you start picking on Bob. Bob's the best of the best. I'm lucky to have found him."
He tried to look innocent. "I wasn't picking on Bob."
"Yeah, you were."
He put up both hands, a gesture of surrender. "Okay, okay. I'll never say another damn word about Bob."
"Bob knows what I do for a living. He's not the least judgmental—unlike some people I could mention."
Matt huffed a little. "I'm not judgmental." Beneath the huffing, he was hurt. She could tell.
And she felt suddenly sorry. Matt Bravo was a great guy, really. A fine father, who doted on their little girl. And over the years, strangely enough, he'd practically become Corrine's best friend. She shouldn't be calling him judgmental—even if he sometimes was.
Time to change the subject. "Want some?" She tipped her head at the thicket of green bottles. "I've got plenty."
"Why not?" He was already shrugging out of his pricey leather coat.
She had half a tray of unused wineglasses. She grabbed one and chose a bottle at random, turning it to read the label. "A little merlot?"
He dropped into a wing chair across the coffee table from her. "Sounds good to me."
She poured, passed him the glass and then poured one for herself. "To our amazing, beautiful, brilliant daughter."
He leaned toward her so he could touch his glass to hers. Then he sat back. They both sipped. He gave a nod of approval. "Not bad."
"And the price is right."
He frowned at the tray of torn bread and the pitcher of water on another table nearby. "Wait. I get it. A wine tasting."
She nodded. "It went well, thank you. There were six of us, including me." She named off three of her employees and a couple of longtime friends from school. Then she raised her glass again. "I'm always looking for good values for the bar, and a few of these are pretty nice." Matt worked at BravoCorp, the family business. She worked in her family's business, too. Her bar, Armadillo Rose, was a San Antonio landmark. It had belonged to her mother before her and before that, to her grandmother.
Looking totally satisfied with himself, he settled deeper into the chair and sipped more wine.
"Just make yourself at home." She raised her glass again.
"I always do. Got anything to munch on around here—other than chunks of dry bread, I mean?"
"A few cold appetizers."
"Hand 'em over."
She passed him the tray.
He chose a cracker topped with sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella and popped it in his mouth, reaching out to grab the tray before she could pull it away. "I'll keep that." He set the tray on the side table by his chair, grabbed two more crackers and ate them, watching her as he chewed.
With a distant smile, she turned her face to the fire and considered whether or not to bring up his mother a second time.
After a moment or two, he demanded, "What?"
She met his eyes again. "It's your mom. I'm worried about her. She came in the Rose last night."
He blinked. "Why?"
"She didn't say. She sat at the end of the bar and nursed a martini. For more than three hours."
He couldn't have looked more surprised if she'd bopped him on the head with the merlot bottle. "Three hours. You're kidding me."
"No." Armadillo Rose had live music on the weekends. Rock and hard country. It catered to a young, mostly blue-collar, party crowd. Aleta Bravo was in her mid-fifties, still slim and good-looking. She wore designer clothes and she had a certain air about her, one of money and privilege. Armadillo Rose just wasn't her kind of place. "She seemed…I don't know. Lost, I guess. I sat with her every time I could catch a few minutes. She told me how much she appreciated me and how much she loves Kira…."
He held out his glass for more wine. "My dad won't leave her alone," he said as she poured. "He's always showing up at the ranch, working every angle to get her to come back to him."
"She seemed… so sad last night."
His expression was almost tender. "You were keeping an eye on her."
"You're a good woman, Corrie." The look in his eyes had her throat clutching.
She glanced away. And then she felt silly and made herself face him again. "She, um, she didn't cry or anything. But the place was packed and loud and she would watch everyone dancing and having a good time with this expression that was trying so hard to be bright and happy but didn't quite make it."
"It's a tough time for her."
"Matt, your dad is not my favorite person. Still, it's so painfully obvious she's in love with him and always will be. I don't get why she doesn't just go back to him."
"Hey. Don't ask me. I don't get it either."
"It's been more than a month since she walked out on him." In late September, Aleta had left the big house in Olmos Park where she'd lived with Davis for as long as Corrine had known them. Matt's parents had always kept a suite at Bravo Ridge. Aleta was now staying there. Corrine shook her head. "And it's not like what he did all those years ago was news to her." Corrine and Matt had discussed this before. Matt had confided that his mother had already known about his father's affair. More than two decades ago, right after it happened, Davis had confessed everything.
Matt said, "But she didn't know that the woman he'd slept with was Luz Cabrera—or that there was a baby." The baby, now in her twenties, was named Elena. Matt and his siblings had learned they had a half-sister around the same time their mother left their father. And there was more.
A lot more. Matt's brother Luke had recently married Mercy Cabrera, who was Elena's adoptive sister. It was all beyond complicated. Especially when you added in the fact that Luz Cabrera just happened to be the wife of the Bravos' longtime sworn enemy, Javier Cabrera.
Corrine said, "I still don't get it. Your dad never knew that Luz had his kid, so why is he any more to blame now than he ever was?"
"But that's just it," Matt declared, as if that explained anything.
"My dad claims Luz never told him about Elena. I don't think my mom believes him. And it was always a big deal between them, the whole total honesty thing."
Corrine poured herself more wine. "So you think maybe your dad actually knew the whole time that he had another daughter?"
"No, I don't think he did."
"But you're not sure?"
He ate another cracker. "I'm sure."
"Corrie, damn it. I just am."
"Okay, so. He busted himself all those years ago when he had the affair. At that time, they worked it out and your mom accepted that it was better if he didn't tell her who the woman was. You say you're sure your dad didn't know that Luz had had his kid."
He gave her a look. "And the point you're making is…?"
"That I still don't get it. It was more than twenty years ago. Your parents got past it then. Why won't your mom get past it and go back to him now?"
"She will. Eventually. We're all sure of that."
"That's right. All. My dad. My brothers. Me. My sisters." Aleta had given Davis seven sons and two daughters.
Corrine asked softly, "What makes all of you so sure?"
"We just are."
"Don't roll your eyes at me, Corrie. I know my own mother."
"I'm only saying, even given that she still loves him, it is possible that this time she's finally had it with him."
His brows drew together. "Had it? How?"
"Come on, Matt. You know what I mean. Maybe there's more going on here than we realize. Maybe she's fed up with him on more levels than just the affair he had so long ago. Maybe she's decided she's not going to take it anymore."
"Take it? Take what?"
"You know. Him. Your dad. The way he is, like he thinks he runs the world or something. Maybe she's left him for good this time."
He gaped. "You mean divorce?"
"I do, yeah."
"Hell, no." He said it fast. Too fast.
He put up a hand. "Uh-uh. No way—yeah, okay. They're living apart. Temporarily. But making it permanent? Never going to happen. Divorce is… not who they are. They're solid, married more than thirty years. They would never split up for good."
Although she thought he was in serious denial, Corrine resisted the urge to keep arguing the point. Really, what did she know about marriage and how a good one works? Her dad had abandoned her and her mother when Corrine was nine. Her mom had never remarried.
And Corrine herself had yet to take the plunge. Although she was about to, with Bob.
Corrine smiled to herself. Sometimes she could hardly believe it was really happening. She was getting married at last. To a minister, of all people—a very special kind of minister. The kind who never judged or acted superior.
Bob's church, the New Life Unification Church, was open to people of all beliefs and faiths. Corrine, never much of a churchgoer before, had gone to New Life after her mom died in search of comfort mostly. A girlfriend had sworn she would love it there. And she had. Slowly, she'd gotten to know the pastor, never guessing at the time that Bob would turn out to be the man for her.
She glanced down at the diamond on her finger. It wasn't big or flashy. But it gave off a nice sparkle in the light from the fire. And Bob was such a good man, generous, sweet and true…
Matt shifted in his chair. She looked up into his gray eyes and they shared a smile.
"So what else you got here?" He gestured at the bottles between them.
"You'll end up drunk if you don't watch it."
"It'll do me good to loosen up a little." He held out his empty glass. "I'm a stick-up-the-ass corporate guy, remember?"
She winced. "Did I call you that?"
"To my face. More than once."
"Forgiven. You know that. More wine."
"A modest little cabernet, maybe?"
Matt could have sat in that chair across from Corrie forever.
They tried more of the wines. A pinot noir and something Spanish. They talked and laughed. An hour went by.
Matt was having a good time. A great time—but then, except for a while there after she told him she was pregnant, he always did have a good time with Corrie. Sometimes lately, when he brought Kira home at the end of the weekend, he would find himself wishing he didn't have to leave.