No birds sang.
Wet black trees supported branches thinly covered with April buds.
Sprinkles of rain made hardly a patter. Dead silence, she thought,
her ill-timed humor. The emptiness of the surroundings unnerved
her. "I don't see anyone."
attended the private ceremony held in the funeral chapel. Her mom
had decided against seeing Gloria, Lionel's daughter-in-law, and
her son, Mark, much to Leanne's relief. She'd have gone for support
if her mom had felt the need, but personally, Leanne had no use
for either of the Collinses. Much as they had no use for her.
at the mausoleum door, which Leanne was thankful hadn't been locked
yet. Two workers turned at their entrance, then ducked out into
the drizzle. Their portable floor lamps lit most of the fifteen
by fifteen-foot-interior like high noon, illuminating the gaping
hole in the wall. Shadows lingered in the corners. Leanne snugged
her raincoat tighter.
Her mom closed
the umbrella and smoothed her dark-blond hair back into its chignon.
At fifty-four, she had only a few lines, although her green eyes
had lost their sparkle during the past week.
Giving her mom
a moment of privacy, Leanne inspected the crypt. Lionel would be
interred above Helen, his wife of forty-seven years. Warren, their
son-my half-brother-lay at rest across from them. She probed the
thought like a sore tooth but experienced no pain. He'd been a stranger,
no more than a name to her. Below him was a marker with Gloria's
name and birth year chiseled on it.
There wasn't a place for Mark.
to mention this to her mom, but stopped at the sight of the grief
on her face. Her mother's fingertips hovered just above the mahogany
casket, tears slipping down her cheeks.
her arm around her mother's shoulders, offering support but no words.
She had nothing to say about this man. Other than generous monthly
checks, he'd ignored her existence. Conscience money, she thought,
then corrected herself. It couldn't have been. Lionel Collins hadn't
had a conscience.
Her mother sniffed
and dabbed at her tears with a tissue. Leanne hugged her tighter.
"He was a good man. He was," her mom emphasized, as though
Leanne had argued the point. She wouldn't, not today. If she hadn't
changed her mother's mind in the past, debating "the Lion's"
questionable merits wouldn't help anything now.
was," a male voice said behind them.
They spun. A
tall man filled the doorway, his silky dark hair absorbing the illumination
from the workmen's lights. As he stepped forward, she noticed his
deep brown eyes and had to repress a shiver. Chilly air, she told
herself, wanting to believe it. She recognized him from the financial
section of the newspaper.
he said. "I thought everyone had headed to the hotel already.
My mother lost an earring and is afraid it dropped-" he eyed
the casket "-somewhere in here." He leaned forward, hand
extended. "I'm Mark Collins."
when her mother reached to take his hand between both of hers and
Fairbanks," she said in her quiet, dignified way. "This
is my daughter, Leanne. We're so sorry for your loss."
He placed his
other hand over her mother's. He hadn't reacted at all to the introduction.
Smooth, Leanne thought.
to the man behind him. "This is Todd Benton. He's come to help
me-" again he glanced at the casket "-in my search."
Fairbanks?" Todd asked. He stepped forward, his thin eyebrows
creeping up on his forehead toward where his hairline should have
been. "As well as being a family friend, I'm also the late
Mr. Collins's lawyer. I have information of interest to you."
"What might that be, Mr. Benton?"
of course. I'd like to speak to you in private. Perhaps we could
set up a time for you to come to my office."
Leanne and Mark said at the same time.
She looked at
him, and he glared back. She tried to digest the news while he pierced
her with his gaze. His dark eyes narrowed before he turned to the
to be a step behind, Benton. Why is Miss Fairbanks named in my grandfather's
dropped open. The nerve of the man. She hadn't expected to inherit
anything-nor did she want anything from a man who'd abandoned her
mother when she became pregnant. But for Mark to question Lionel's
mentioning her was appalling.
she's Lionel's daughter, of course."
He hadn't known?
Leanne would have accused him of deception if he hadn't gone pale
beneath his tan. Emotions crossed his face, but on such short acquaintance,
she couldn't interpret them. He frowned in what could have been
confusion. His eyes widened, possibly with disbelief, and was that
pain in the tightness around his mouth?
What had the
Collins family been told? All these years she thought they'd known
about her. If they hadn't, she could forgive their silence. She'd
have only Lionel to blame. Perhaps they'd want to embrace her as
a member of the family now that they knew.
Benton repeated. "You didn't.? Come on, Mark, you must have
Mark shook his
head. Had he lost his power of speech? Leanne felt that way herself.
and Warren never told you?" Benton asked.
knows?" Mark whispered, never breaking eye contact with Leanne.
she knows. Your entire family knew of Lionel's scandal."
A chill washed
over Leanne. So much for being embraced.