Prelude (An Alec Winters Series, Book 1)

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Chapter 22

Sabrina sat with Cassidy at the breakfast table. They were having coffee before their planned Saturday visit with Catalina. The younger woman recalled the memories of a brightly lit dining room and that her parents’ united front and persona was similar to the television characters of Ward and June Cleaver. Henry and Sue Devereux had been a committed, loving couple during their marriage. They had also provided a safe, comfortable home for their only child.

She could still hear her mother’s lilting voice calling out, “Sabrina, it’s time for dinner. Is Chaz staying? There’s plenty of food and he’s always welcome.” An extra place setting was out and waiting, just in case Chaz or another friend wanted to stay and dine with the Devereux family.

Sue, a throwback from the fifties, still dressed for dinner and she expected her family to do the same. At the very least, there was an edict for Sabrina’s company to ‘wash-up’ before coming to the table. The memory brought a lump to Sabrina’s throat and she quickly wiped away a tear.

“What is it dear?” Cassidy, keenly aware of her guest’s moods, asked.

“I miss my mother,” Sabrina admitted.

“Of course you do,” Cassidy consoled as she tenderly patted Sabrina’s hand.

“Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that you care about me and always allow me to vent my troubles, especially after Dad has lost it…well, as you know, he was never very stable anyway.”

“How is Henry?” Cassidy gently prodded.

“I don’t know for sure. He doesn’t confide in me. It seems my father doesn’t have room for anyone in his heart other than Natasha Flint. She’s only ten years older than I am, Cassidy. I just don’t understand. Yes, she is very pretty in a bleach-blonde sort of way, but I’m his daughter. He chooses her over me. He chooses her over the memories of my mother. It hurts.”

“Of course it does,” Cassidy sympathized. “Have you heard anymore from the police? Do they have any leads on the driver or car that struck and killed your mother?”

“Nothing,” Sabrina replied. “They don’t know any more today than they did on the day it happened.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. You’ve faced many challenges while Alec has been away,” Cassidy soothed. “I know it hasn’t been easy. Maybe, one day, we’ll look back on this time as the worst year ever. Maybe, there are only good times ahead.”

“Maybe,” Sabrina hesitantly agreed. “I’m just worried that it will only get worse.”

“Whatever will be will be, dear,” Cassidy comforted.

“Que Sera, Sera,” Sabrina tearfully hummed the tune.

“Yes, dear, whatever will be, will be.”

Cassidy’s heart went out to Sabrina. The younger woman had lost so very much. First, Alec joined the army and left the area. Next, during her first year at Tulane, a drunk driver killed her mother. Then, her father went off the deep end. Cassidy knew Henry was grieving, and she felt for him, but his sorrows had led to mistakes that had destroyed Sabrina’s peace of mind.

Although Henry Devereux was neither very stable nor bright, he was well compensated as a financial planner for a highly respected insurance firm. Henry’s successes were attributed to following a specified plan of action that the company laid out for all their employees. He excelled because he stayed on task, dressed well, and made himself available to his clients. However, after the death of his wife, Henry hit the slab facedown. He was too depressed to go to work and too distraught to follow his normal routine. His weekly sales rankings began to slip which only caused more worry.

In response to the additional work-stress, Henry began to drink heavily. He spent a great deal of his time at Harrah’s Casino playing blackjack. The distraction was harmless in the beginning, but casinos are notorious for criminal activity. It didn’t take long for Natasha Flint’s pimp, Randy Petrov, to point him out to her.

“Look at him, Natasha,” Randy encouraged. “Poor guy! He’s so sad. He seems lost, doesn’t he? Give the man something to be happy about. More importantly, see if he can give you something that I’ll be happy about, okay?”

“Is this a project?” Natasha sullenly asked as she eyed the fiftyish looking fellow with a receding hairline. “He looks soft. Why do I get all the old guys? Why not someone young and virile?”

“It is an assignment,” Randy grinned as he forcefully squeezed her hand. It let her know who was boss and not to argue. “You’re the right one for the job so quit bitching. See how long you can make it last. I want everything the bastard has.”

“How do you know he has anything worthwhile?”

“I’ve been watching him for weeks now. I will teach you to see the things I see yet. Look at his shoes,” Randy shrugged as he instructed his number one hooker. “They’re Italian leather. Look at his suit; it didn’t come off the rack. See the wedding band on his finger? Now, look at his eyes and tell me, what do you see?”

“His eyes are red…like he’s been crying. He must be very sad,” Natasha acknowledged.

“Yep, he’s one miserable sack. That means he’s ripe for the picking. Go get him, girl. Find out what tragedy has struck him square in the jaw. Then, step-in and become his salvation. Men like that always need a savior. You will be his,” Randy made a clicking sound with his tongue as he nodded in Henry’s direction, “Giddy-up!”

“Hello handsome,” Natasha’s husky Slavic whisper breezed against Henry Devereux’s cheek as she slid sideways into the chair at the gaming table. “Is this game called blackjack?” At his nod, she continued. “I’ve always wanted to play this game, but I don’t know the rules. Can you teach me, please?”

Henry looked up from his cards. When he saw the pretty blonde woman sitting next to him, he couldn’t help but return the smile she offered. In the current lighting, she was truly lovely. Her blue eyes were locked on his and his heartbeat quickened. They were inviting eyes, eyes without judgment, and that made Henry feel important. The dealer seemed to know her and waived a server over with her favorite drink, a brandy Alexander. By the end of the evening, it felt natural when Harrah’s comped a room for the couple.

Soon, Natasha’s well-honed father-complex had successfully drawn Henry in and pulled him from the brink of despair. A slender blonde and twenty years his junior, her admiration, along with a vibrant and flashy lifestyle, jolted him back from the depths of his depression. The attention and appreciation she showered on him made Henry feel alive again and he threw caution to the winds.

“You taught me how to play a new game,” she cooed, “Now, let me introduce you to something new.”

Henry, genuinely looking for a distraction from the painful loss of his wife, fell headfirst into a brand new world of cocaine and ecstasy. The Mexican Cartel made sure the drugs were plentiful and Natasha always knew where to get what she wanted. The French Quarter was flooded with the stuff. Henry supplied the money and Natasha procured their nightly entertainment.

After complaining that her landlord was a pervert who frequently walked in her apartment unannounced, Henry wanted to help his new companion. He offered her a safe place to stay. In only a short while, Natasha was dressed in the late Mrs. Devereux’s sexiest nightgown and sitting at the breakfast table in the Devereux home.

“Sabrina, this is Natasha,” Henry curtly introduced one morning. “She’ll be staying here for a while until she finds a safer place to live.” At Sabrina’s quizzical gaze, he added, “Although English isn’t her first language, she speaks it well enough. Maybe the two of you could be friendly and try to get along. Natasha hasn’t had an easy life, but I’ve agreed to help her. There’s plenty of room so you can avoid each other if that is a concern.”

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” Sabrina offered as Henry left that morning. She was glad to see that her father had stopped crying and had returned to his work routine, but she worried about the new woman in his life.

‘A while’ turned into six months. Each day became more uncomfortable for Sabrina. Natasha had the run of the house and took whatever she wanted. She raided Sabrina’s closets and took her very best outfits. When Sabrina confronted her, Natasha only commented with a shrug, “Your dead mother’s clothing is too old fashion for me. I am young, like you. I will wear these clothes from now on. Daddy will buy you more, yes?”

Often Sabrina would return from class to find Natasha sitting with a friend in the formal living room. Natasha made no introductions, but on more than one occasion, Sabrina overheard her call the man Randy. When asked about the visitor, Natasha brushed the question off with a delicate laugh and said, “Oh, Randy is a long-time friend. I used to work for him. Perhaps, you would like to work for him too.”

“I have a full schedule at Tulane. With the pressures of school and homework, I don’t have any spare time,” Sabrina cautiously replied. Randy seemed seedy and disreputable. She couldn’t imagine what kind of work Natasha had done for him, but whatever it was, she knew she wanted no part of it.

After that conversation, Natasha’s attitude changed. She no longer attempted to get along with Henry’s daughter. Only a short while later, as Sabrina prepared to head to class one morning, Natasha suggested, “You know, Sabrina, you should find a new place to live. A girl of your age, what are you now…Twenty? You should have a man to take care of you or already be living on your own. You don’t want to always mooch off your father, do you?”

“No, I don’t want that,” Sabrina admitted with surprise. Then, she added, “But I bet that you do.”

“Aww, come on, little girl,” Natasha responded in her thick Slavic dialect. “Grow up. Your father has many pleasures with me. You wouldn’t deny him that, now that he is happier. He was so sad about your dead mother. I have given him something to be happy about once again. He needs the pleasures I provide. He needs me. What have you done for him lately? Are you there to shoo the misery away? I think not. The point I intend to make is that we would like to express our desires and affections freely, not to contain it. You understand that we cannot do this with you here, always coming and going, coming and going. It’s annoying. Let’s say that you have a week to find a new place to live, all right? That works for you. Good!”

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