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St. Petersburg, Florida May, 1997 --
Detective Sergeant Sean McLeod was not in a good mood. Unfortunately, that was nothing new. He'd been in a bad mood for most of the past year, so he was getting used to the feeling. He finished his beer, crumpled the empty can and tossed it toward the trash. It missed, which figured. He stared at the fridge, wondering if it was worth the effort of walking over, opening the door and getting another beer.
His mother picked up the empty can while he was still searching for the energy to haul his ass out of the chair. "We recycle here," she said, not complaining, just stating a fact. She took a sponge and wiped up the drops of beer that had trickled out of the can onto her decorative tile floor. "This gray bin is for cans and glass, and the blue basket's for papers."
"Okay, I'll remember. Mom, for God's sake, stop cleaning." Sean pushed back his chair and grabbed the sponge from her hand, throwing it into the sink. "You'll wash the pattern off the damn tiles if you keep scrubbing at them like that."
"I just want to keep them looking new. They're so pretty."
She sounded apologetic, as though she were the person at fault, not him, and Sean felt instant -- inevitable -- guilt for his flash of temper. Guilt was about the only emotion he did well these days. Hisparents had lived in the same row house in Chicago for forty years, and this condo in Florida was their dream home, bought with a lifetime of hard work and scrimping. He had no right to begrudge his mother the pleasure of caring for her shiny new kitchen and fancy tile floors any more than he should feel irritated because his father spent all morning, every morning, rearranging his power tools on a workbench set up in a corner of the two-car garage.
He tried to make amends. "Everything looks great, Mom. They'll be asking you to do Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous any day now."
"Go on with you." She laughed, but he could see she was pleased.
His father called from the living room. "Shirl,20/20"s starting. Come and sit down."
"I won't be a minute. I'm just unloading the dinner dishes."
"I'll do the dishes." Sean turned her gently toward the living room. "You go watch your TV show. You don't want to miss the opening."
"Well, thank you, dear. If you're sure you know where everything goes..."
"I'm a detective, remember? I'll find out where everything goes."
He could see that the mention of his job made her nervous, as if she expected him to break down in front of her eyes. She gave him an uncertain smile, then untied her apron and hung it on the hook behind the kitchen door, squirting lotion onto her hands from the bottle on the counter as she went through into the living room. "The salad bowl goes on the top shelf of the cupboard to the left of the sink."
"Fine. I'll take care of it."
"Everything okay in there?" he heard his father ask as his mother went into the living room. Ron McLeod was getting hard of hearing and tended to talk loudly even when he thought he was whispering.
"Shush, Ron, don't talk so loud. Everything's fine."
"Yeah, sure it is," Ron snorted. "Sean's been like a bear with a thorn in his paw ever since he got here."
His mother made more shushing sounds. "A few more days and he'll be fine," she said.
"Not if he sits around drinking beer and pacing the goshdarn condo all night long." His father's voice boomed over the opening credits for 20/20. "I tell you, Shirl, he may be our son, but he's driving me crazy."
"He just needs time to unwind. He's lost two partners in the space of a year, remember. And been in the hospital twice --"
"He should have had the smarts to quit while he was ahead."
"I think he would have if he hadn't realized Lynn was having an affair."
"You're not trying to tell me he cares about losing Lynn, are you? When the two of them were married, he hardly spent a night at home. Personally, I don't blame the girl for divorcing him. He's a workaholic. Lives, breathes, eats and sleeps that darn job of his."
Ever the peacemaker, his mother didn't respond directly, although Sean guessed she agreed with her husband. "Whatever his feelings toward Lynn, it was real hard for him to say goodbye to Heather. She's such a sweet little thing and you know how much he loves her."
When the dishwasher was empty, he went to the phone and called his brother. Damned if he was going to sit around all night remembering that it was six months until Thanksgiving, which -- thanks to Lynn's latest victory in court -- was the next chance he'd get to spend time with Heather.
If Don was home, he would answer the phone on the first ring. His brother maintained that you never knew what kind of a business deal might be waiting for you and kept a phone in all fourteen rooms of his waterfront penthouse just so he'd never miss out on a hot opportunity. He rarely screened his incoming calls. If the call turned out to be from one of his ex-wives or somebody else he didn't want to talk to, he simply hung up as soon as they started speaking. No self-doubt and residual guilt about failed marriages for Don. His brother was confident that his ex-wives -- all three of them -- were scheming bitches. He was equally confident that he'd been a model husband. His marriages had failed because his bitchy wives hadn't tried hard enough to make them work. End of story.
After this past weekend in Atlanta with Lynn and her new surgeon husband, Sean was beginning to think Don's attitude toward ex-wives had a lot of merit.
"Hello, this is Donald McLeod." His brother, third generation American, managed to sound as if he'd just stepped off a plane from Glasgow. He'd discovered that a Scottish accent created an image of trustworthiness that helped to sell cars, so he now spoke with a brogue that was thicker than a bowl of cold porridge.
"This is Sean. Is your offer to hit some of the high spots in Ybor City still open?"
"Well, hell, it most surely is. You wouldna believe what a collection of fine young women you can find in Ybor City on a Friday night."
"So drive one of your fancy cars over here and let's get going. I'm in the mood to drown my sorrows. And lose the fake accent while you're driving over, will you?"
"And what fake accent wuid you be referrin' to, may I ask?"
"Don, if you want to live to see forty --"
"Okay, I'll be right over." The phone clicked. Whatever else you could fault Don for, you couldn't complain that he demanded long explanations or that he had trouble making up his mind.
Sean took a shower and cleaned his teeth so that he could sober up some before he started the night's serious drinking. With Don, it was guaranteed that they'd be going to a bar where there were lots of available women, a good DJ and a decent-sized dance floor. If Don remained true to form, he would circle the dance floor once and have his bedmate for the night picked out before the bartender could serve their first drinks.
In the past, back in prehistoric times when Sean had believed that men and women could have honest, meaningful relationships, he'd always tried to convince his brother that sex was more rewarding if you talked to a woman before you screwed her. Since his divorce, he'd come around to his brother's view. If a woman was willing and curved in the right places, you knew everything about her that was important. Tonight, he planned to walk around the dance floor right behind his brother and pick out a bedmate strictly on the basis of the length of her legs and the size of her tits.
His mother had insisted on doing his laundry when he arrived from Atlanta, and she'd ironed and starched everything, including his boxers. Sean found a pair of Dockers, almost unrecognizable with knife-edge pleats, and shook out the starched folds of a forest green linen shirt, wincing when the cloth around the buttons crackled as he fastened them. He'd forgotten what it felt like to put on a shirt that was almost stiff enough to stand by itself. He hoped the women in Ybor City would be impressed by his mother's efforts to spruce him up.
Slapping cologne onto his cheeks -- another postdivorce innovation -- Sean went out onto the patio to wait for his brother. The day had been hot -- this far south, spring was already a memory -- but the night had cooled off just enough to be pleasant. He was admiring the view of the full moon reflected in the tiny artificial lake when Don arrived.
His brother breezed in, all smiles, wearing pastel clothes that looked right out of Miami Vice. If you didn't know Don was the most successful used car dealer in central Florida, you'd think he ought to be.
"Hi, Sean. Dad. Mom, you're looking gorgeous. Who did that great new hairstyle for you?" Don planted a hearty kiss on his mother's cheek. "I brought you and Dad some chocolates," he said. "Enjoy them while you watch your show."
"You shouldn't keep bringing us presents," Shirley said. But she smiled as she looked at the box. "Oh, Don! Belgian truffles, my favorites!"
"Only the best for my favorite lady." Don gave his father a hearty clap on the back. "What about those Cubbies, Dad? Incredible game yesterday, wasn't it?"
"They're going to win the Pennant," Ron said. "You mark my words. This is the year the Cubs will go all the way."
"Let's hope you're right. That'd be something for the record books, wouldn't it?" Don leaned over the back of the sofa and helped himself to one of the chocolates. "Come and watch the game at my place next time. The team looks even better on a big screen."
"That'd be nice --"
"Then we'll do it. It's a date." Don licked chocolate from his fingers and made his way to the front door, his arm looped around Sean's shoulders. "Okay, folks, you be good while we're gone now. Lock the door after us."
Shirley looked up from her chocolates. "When will you be home, Sean? Do you have the key I gave you?"
"Right here." He held up the key, attached to a plastic pink flamingo. He wasn't quite sure if his mother considered the key chain a joke.
"Sean may decide to spend the night at my place, so don't wait up," Don said. "Oops, there's Barbara Walters coming back on. We won't interrupt your program anymore. Coming, Sean? Bye, folks."
Less than three minutes after arriving, he was out the front door.
Excerpted from The Daughter by Jasmine Cresswell Copyright © 2006 by Jasmine Cresswell. Excerpted by permission.
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