Prelude (An Alec Winters Series, Book 1)

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Chapter 28

Like Sabrina, Danaé Chisholm was also a very lovely young woman. She was five-foot-seven and slender, weighing about a hundred and twenty pounds. Her shoulder-length blonde hair framed an oval face with green eyes. Overall, her mixed New England and French Cajun beauty, was striking, but hers was more of ‘the girl next door’ appeal.

Unlike the Devereux’s, Danaé’s parents weren’t the best role models. At a very young age, Radley and Alisha Chisholm had Nicolas. Five years later Danaé was born. Unlike Alec Winters, Nicolas was not affectionate or caring towards his younger sister. He reasoned that, if he and Danaé were close, it would only make life more difficult for both of them when he chose to leave. And, he did plan to leave. With that as his goal, and as soon as he could manage it, Nicolas high-tailed it away from what he considered ‘the dirtiest, most corrupt city in America.’ No one had heard from him since.

Life in New Orleans was tough enough, but it became more difficult after Nicolas left. The responsibilities that had previously fallen on his shoulders were left to ten-year-old Danaé. Those tasks included looking after her alcoholic parents.

Formerly Alisha Reynolds, Danaé’s mother hadn’t always been addicted to beer and booze. Originally, from a well-to-do family in Providence, Rhode Island, Alisha was well mannered and tidily groomed as a New England young lady. During a field trip to New Orleans, she met Radley Chisholm in the most unlikely place. The private school she attended had planned many exciting excursions for their students whose ages ranged from fourteen to eighteen: The list included: Confederate Memorial Hall, Gallier House, the Hermann-Grima House, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, the Historic New Orleans Collection museum, House of Broel, New Orleans Museum of Art, Longue Vue House and Gardens, and several other attractions that would appeal to those of all ages.

It was an exciting time for Alisha, a sheltered fifteen-year-old girl who had never been away from her well-meaning, but controlling parents. Alisha was mesmerized by the vivid, enchanting city. She was even more enthralled by Radley Chisholm, the handsome boy she met outside Confederate Memorial Hall.

Radley was slender with dark hair and green eyes. His complexion was like café au lait, dark and creamy. His teeth were the whitest she’d ever seen. His artistic look made him appear sad, but sensitive. To Alisha, he was the most attractive man she’d ever seen.

“Oh, he’s so dreamy,” she confided to a friend.

Confederate Hall was a favorite hangout for the twenty-year-old Radley. It was easy to pickpocket the many, unsuspecting tourists as they left the building and walked into bright sunlight. Most visitors were so wide-eyed about the city’s attractions that they foolishly left their valuables lying around while they took photos of each other and the sites. It really was easy pickings.

When Radley first saw Alisha, he stopped thieving long enough to smile a huge, blazing-white grin. She was gorgeous with long blonde hair and a beautiful face. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. When their eyes met, there was an instantaneous attraction and connection. Radley, assured that he had her attention, returned to his activities while Alisha watched with anxious and excited anticipation. She’d never seen anything like it; he silently glided through the crowd taking whatever he wanted. She loved that the handsome boy was adept at slipping his hands into unsuspecting pockets and retrieving valuables and trinkets without causing any notice or suspicion. If he didn’t want the stolen object, he just as easily dropped it back into the pocket. She covered her mouth to hide her laughter, but her eyes twinkled in response to his antics.

Radley retrieved a lovely box that held a St. Christopher medallion on a shiny chain. He held it up for Alisha’s approval while pointing at her. She nodded, and he disappeared from view. The next thing she knew, he’d placed the ornament around her neck. She hadn’t even seen him as he smoothly moved through the crowd to her side. It was magic…and so was his touch!

Alisha managed to slip away from the chaperones for a few hours at a time, but wanting more, such time limits weren’t enough. Alisha was madly in love and she wanted all that Radley could give her. He professed his love too, which made her next choice easy. She decided to stay in New Orleans with him. Once she’d made that decision, the rest was easy.

She got away from the group supervisors one final time, and with Radley’s help, they hid together in the bowels of the city. It was easy for the Louisiana native to hide in plain sight. He knew where the cops were looking for the missing girl and cleverly avoided those areas.

After the search ended, and the tour bus returned to Rhode Island, Radley introduced Alisha to an intoxicating, but gaudy, side of the city. Sure that she was as committed to him as he was to her, Radley then took her home to meet his family. Radley’s people, French Creole, lived in the southernmost swamps around New Orleans. His Cajun relatives quickly threw together a Zydeco style wedding where guests played the washboard, fiddle, and accordion. Everyone rejoiced while they danced and gaily participated in the celebration of the couple’s new love. Radley rocked Alisha’s world in many other ways as well.

Alisha’s parents sent a private eye to find their daughter, but by then, she was already married and pregnant. It didn’t matter to the Reynolds. They wanted their only child returned to them. However, because Alisha was married, the state’s Napoleonic Law recognized her as an adult and under the rule of her husband. There wasn’t any way that Radley would give her up as long as she wanted to stay with him, but he had to make sure she wanted to be with him.

“Do you want to go home to your parents, Alisha?” Radley worriedly asked. “You know that I love you with all my heart, but I also want what’s best for you. Do you think that living with your folks in a fancy home would be a better life for you and the little one you’re carrying?”

“I’d never leave you, Radley,” Alisha proclaimed. “For better or worse, we’re going to have a family now. I’m yours and you are mine…and don’t you dare forget it.”

Her parents’ New Orleans lawyers advised, “The law is the law. Now, if you want, you can wish in one hand and spit in the other. Eventually, you’ll see which hand fills faster. Your daughter is no longer yours. Better face that hard fact and get on with your lives. She’s getting on with hers here in Louisiana.”

Radley and Alisha were poor, but happy. Their love carried them through many difficult times. When Alisha became ill, there wasn’t any money for doctors and she didn’t realize that her condition was very serious. She didn’t know that the alcohol she so enjoyed was the cause of her failing health.

After spending nearly twenty great years with Radley, Alisha died at the age of thirty-four. Her final words to her husband summed up all that she felt, “It was worth it Radley. Every bit of it.” Although they had lived a meager existence, Radley considered the time spent with Alisha as the best years of his life. After her death, he fell apart and began to drink more than usual. He lost all self-respect and became a public drunk. The local police regularly picked him up, but since he’d never hurt anyone, he was allowed to sleep it off until his daughter could pick him up.

After graduation, Danaé left New Orleans to attend Brown University. Having failed their daughter, and wanting their granddaughter far away from her father’s people in the Louisiana swamps and bayous, the education she received at Brown was a gift from her maternal grandparents, Howard and Jessica Rodgers.

“Oh, it breaks my heart to say it, but you look so much like your mother,” Grandmother Rodgers cried when she first saw Danaé. Howard Rodgers agreed with his wife and encircled his granddaughter in a warm, welcoming hug.

Danaé worked hard to make a good life for herself after she left New Orleans. She appreciated the opportunity to put some distance between herself and the memories that had haunted her there…mainly, Alec Winters. She felt cheated that she had gotten so little of him while Sabrina and Chaz had gotten so much. She didn’t blame Chaz or Sabrina. If she’d been in their shoes, she’d have done the same. She would’ve relished every moment spent with him. She blamed the timing of everything back then.

The phrase ‘perfect timing’ pissed her off. She wanted her perfect timing and was impatient as she waited for it to come. She knew it would. Martin Saguache still appeared to her once a year. She knew that when her time came to help Alec, he’d be the one to bring the news.

After graduation from Brown, Danaé remained in Rhode Island. There, she met a new love, Tommy Kowalski. They lived together for several years before they were married. Although they were happy, the union had not resulted in any children and both Tommy and Danaé were saddened by that news.

Tommy and Danaé tried every fertility method available, but without success. The closer she got to thirty-five, the more conscious she became of her biological clock. In fact, as each year passed, the ticking seemed to speed up and grow louder. Deep in her heart, Danaé understood the cause of her infertility, but it was a reason she had to keep to herself. To compensate, she worked hard as technical advisor to the Dean of Women at Brown, but a career in applied sciences offered limited fulfillment.

“I guess we just love ourselves too much, Tommy,” she admitted when she showed him the latest letter from the fertility clinic. “The embryos didn’t survive.”

“I’m sorry, baby,” Tommy said as he wrapped his loving arms around her.

“Maybe this is all that we get in this life.”

“We have each other and our careers. We have our families here. We don’t have it so bad, Danaé.”

“I know. We have a good life together.”

“Yes, and it’s more than most people get,” Tommy added. “Maybe it’s enough. I think we should be satisfied with what we have, Danaé. I think we should stop trying so hard. It’s heartbreaking each time we get the news. I don’t enjoy going through that pain and I know how hard it is on you, too. Can we simply be satisfied with what life has already given us? Is that all right with you?”

“Of course it is, Tommy.”

Even though Danaé often thought about the past, she tried very hard not to do so. Although she had grown close to Sabrina, Chaz, and the Winters family during her last year in New Orleans, she had tried to put everything behind her. Now, she recalled the visit with Cassidy and Catalina the night Alec was arrested.

When they had gotten home from the hospital, Cassidy had welcomed Chaz, Sabrina, and Danaé into the home even though it was very late. The police had finally cleared out and the nosy neighbors had gone back inside their homes.

“Is Mr. Winters really dead?” Chaz had asked.

“Yes,” Cassidy confirmed.

“Then why were you at the hospital?” Sabrina questioned. “Was someone else hurt?”

“Yes, Catalina’s father hurt her. That’s why the police arrested Alec. They think he killed Buck to stop him from raping Cat.”

“What?” Sabrina and Chaz blurted out in unison.

“It’s a long story. Alec got home from the market earlier than usual. He walked in and caught Buck attacking Cat. He tried to stop him, but Buck was too big, too strong. They fought for some time before a neighbor called the police. Cat’s bedroom was destroyed in the process. It looks like a bomb went off in there from the struggle, the fight. In the process, Buck must’ve had a heart attack, but the police want to blame Alec. They have arrested him for murder. I really don’t know what else I can tell you except that I don’t believe Alec killed his father, not intentionally anyway. I believe that Buck realized his son knew what he’d been doing to Catalina, apparently for some time, and the battle along with shame of that knowledge, caused his heart to stop. He had a lot of health problems…I don’t know what else to say.” Cassidy’s voice trailed off to a whisper.

“It makes sense,” Chaz had thoughtfully commented.

Danaé was no longer angry with her father. She finally understood how difficult it was for him to lose Alisha. That bereavement had inflamed his already weak constitution and he drank even more to lessen the tragedy of losing the only woman he had ever loved.

Still, Danaé didn’t want to see anyone in New Orleans. She especially didn’t want to visit since Alec Winters was nowhere around. However, out of sight didn’t necessarily mean out of mind.

Even though she deeply loved Tommy, she thought of Alec every day. She couldn’t resist the mysterious pull and longing he aroused in her. She knew that one day she would have to go back. She wouldn’t have a choice in the matter. The stars would align for her to be with him. As the years slowly passed by, she could feel that the time was drawing close. Alec would come home soon, and when the time was right, she would go back too.

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