Her Brother's Keeper by Amy Gallow by Amy Gallow - Read Online

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Summary

A brother par excellence, comforter, protector, mentor, guide, working overseas to support her and his mother, everything a brother should be and rarely is—or a lover beyond her dreams? Drawn into a web of intrigue by others, Heather's quandary intensifies as Richard returns to Malaysia when a long-time friend of his father's suffers a heart attack. The strands of the web begin to tighten when she is sent to join him by the plotters, with the intention of compromising her in a drug deal. Richard hustles her out of the country and goes to ground to untangle the matter. Forced to rely on piecemeal and contradictory information, Heather can only guess what is happening to the man she grew up with as a brother, but is now the core of her existence.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781603139892
List price: $3.99
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Her Brother's Keeper - Amy Gallow

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understand.

Prologue

Heather left the restaurant with a spring in her step. Oliver Symonds was a valuable addition to her client list at the law practice of Stuart & Rendell. Not quite the Big Money end of town, but someone to boast about in her weekly email to Richard in Kuala Lumpur.

She’d love to share her news in person and regretted not visiting Malaysia on her last trip overseas, but lovers take precedence over brothers, even peerless ones like Richard, and Tony had insisted on Bali. With the increasing demands of her career making inroads on their social life, he’d needed placating.

Damn! Symonds’ insistence on a Monday morning response meant another late night in the office and she’d promised Tony a special meal.

She took her cell phone from her bag and speed dialed Tony’s number, frowning when the call defaulted immediately to his voice mail. He had the phone turned off again. It was getting to be a habit.

Still, their city apartment was less than a block away. She’d buy two jars of local mussels and lay out the ingredients for his favorite marinara with a note explaining the circumstances. It might soften the shouting match when she came home.

Their lift was out of order again, forcing her to climb six flights of stairs carrying the two shopping bags, one heavy with the jars of mussels and the other with a bottle of Tony’s favorite Shiraz, added as a sweetener. She paused outside their door, fumbling for her keys, both shopping bags in her left hand, and noted the surreptitious closing of their neighbor’s door. Mrs. Bennett was a nosey old biddy...

Once inside, she dumped her bag and the keys on the hall stand and headed for the kitchenette with the shopping bags, only to be waylaid by a sound from their bedroom. Tony must be home after all. She turned aside and opened the door to the classic farce of infidelity discovered...and Tony’s partner was Jessica, supposedly Heather’s best friend.

Shock held all three motionless for a long moment, and then Tony rolled off the bed, coming to his feet on the opposite side to the door, while Jessica gave an inane giggle, snatched up her clothes, and slipped past him, disappearing into the ensuite bathroom.

You’re home early. Tony smiled, as if amused or embarrassed, she couldn’t tell which. It’s a bit unusual these days.

I tried to phone you, but you’d switched it off.

I forgot to charge the battery this morning.

It was a ridiculous conversation, but Heather’s mind wouldn’t engage beyond the fact that Tony had betrayed her in the bed they’d bought as their first piece of jointly owned furniture.

I see.

It was all incredibly civilized until Jessica’s head appeared around the door.

Pass me my shoes, lover.

She pointedly ignored Heather, but the sly triumph in her smile shattered the calm.

Bitch! The shopping bag in Heather’s right hand swung back.

Shit. Tony knew the caliber of Heather’s temper too well to hesitate. One hand thrust Jessica back into the bathroom and he followed her through the door, slamming it closed behind him.

Bastard. Heather’s aim was perfect and the two jars of mussels smashed against the door and each other, filling the bedroom with the briny smell of their contents, covering the floor with a minefield of broken glass.

Jessica screamed abuse and Tony swore behind the door as the bottle of wine followed, but neither of them emerged before Heather stormed down the hall to the front door, muttering imprecations about lovers and false friends. After a pause to gather her bag and keys, she left the apartment, slamming the door behind her.

She was never coming back.

A passing cab responded to her hail and she slid into the back seat. Do you know the Catholic church in Widford Street, Glenroy? she asked.

Corpus Christi?

She nodded. Take me there. I’ll give you directions when we arrive.

She’d never found a cabbie who knew the small cul-de-sac where her stepmother lived and this was the easiest way to reach home.

Chapter 1

It was the worst morning of Heather’s life.

Last night, she’d sobbed herself into exhaustion in a mixture of grief and rage. This morning, she faced the unpalatable truth. She’d been a fool. Worse, she’d reacted like one.

Her step mother, Abigail, had offered comfort without questions, and the bungalow in the backyard, still strewn with Heather’s things, was a welcoming refuge. She sat there now, cross-legged on the tangled blankets of her old bed, eyes puffy from her tears, surrounded by the bitter confetti of used tissues, and faced the reality of a life without Tony.

The rattle of knuckles on the bungalow door brought her head up. It was too peremptory for Abigail...

Tuppy, are you decent?

Shock catapulted her off the bed, her misery forgotten. Richard wasn’t due home until Ramadan began, still a month away. Two steps took her to the door and she flung it wide to reveal her peerless brother. Beset by a sudden need, she flung herself into his arms.

Caught in the act of stooping to pick up two familiar suitcases, her rush set him back a pace before he recovered and his arms enfolded her in understanding. Heather hugged him with all her might and could even smile when he shifted in her arms to limit the intimacy of their embrace. It was typical of him. She’d never noticed until Tony came on the scene, but guessed Richard had begun it the moment she’d become a woman.

He’s so wonderfully old-fashioned, she thought, stepping back and trying hard to smile naturally.

Where did you get those? She’d pointed at the two cases, last seen in the under-stair storage of the city apartment.

I flew in this morning, he said. Reached Tullamarine around six-thirty and came straight home. Abigail said you were out here, told me about Tony, so I went to your apartment and picked up your clothes.

You didn’t do anything? Her fear was real. She remembered another time Richard had considered her threatened.

He wasn’t there. The rest of your stuff is in the car. He picked up the cases, stepped around her, dumped them on the bed and went over to the walk-in robe, opened the door and looked in. There’s enough space. I’ll start bringing it in. He paused a moment to study her face, his nose wrinkling to tease her with the accusation she smelled. You could do with a shower. Why don’t you have it while I bring in your clothes? Then you can freshen up and join us in the kitchen. Mum’s brewing a pot of tea.

Heather managed a crooked smile. I’ll have that shower, she said. My big brother’s spoken.

His smile warmed, but it didn’t hide the concern in his eyes.

Heather, he said, they failed, not you. You are a beautiful young woman who has proved she can love completely. You’ll learn from this and love again, hopefully someone who is half worthy of you. Tony and Jessica are the losers. The warmth in his eyes pledged sincerity.

Go on, she said. Bring in the clothes and I’ll do what I can to prove you right. I may not feel beautiful at the moment, but I can make myself presentable. She opened the door to the bathroom and stood, looking back at him over her shoulder. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see than you at this moment.

His measured nod was as much encouragement as acknowledgement. We’ll be in the kitchen when you finish.

Where else. Her smile was genuine now, effortless. The large sunny room, with its wonderful smells, was the true centre of her stepmother’s home. It met triumphs and disasters with the same aplomb, recognizing them as imposters in the face of family solidarity. Heather sometimes wondered how it was possible for Rudyard Kipling to have captured Abigail and her son so accurately.

She didn’t remember her own mother. The marriage had been a brief, convenient management of pregnancy, ending as soon as the London theatre job beckoned, the woman abandoning husband and child with equal unconcern. There’d been no exchanges of letters and Heather’s one attempt to trace her had bogged down in a tracery of stage names and midnight departures to avoid debts. Good riddance to bad rubbish, had been her father’s verdict and Heather had seen no evidence to the contrary until her eighteenth birthday.

She shook her head to dismiss the memory and stepped into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Richard had built the bungalow for himself during his studies at university. Self-contained, it had bathroom, double bedroom and office/sitting room. Heather had shifted there from the house when Richard went to Malaysia. She’d been studying too and found its isolation a boon when concentration came hard. The memory of Richard’s focused application had helped as well, making her feel guilty when she lapsed into daydreaming. It had been great until Tony arrived on the scene and insisted they share the purchase of a city apartment, closer to the nightlife he loved.

The bathroom was large and airy. Heather stripped, reaching in to turn on the shower so the water was warm when she stepped into the shower. Its soothing flow uncoiled the tensions in her body and she gave it time, turning this way and that to soak thoroughly. She’d opted for a short and manageable cut in this first year as an Associate, so she washed her hair as well, emerging from the shower clean and, for the moment, without a past.

She shrugged away the darker thoughts. It was time to see what he’d brought from the apartment, for the two cases now lay open on her bed.

The first was all outer clothing, everything neatly folded and arranged in logical groups, very different from the jumble of her wardrobe, the second case, underclothes, toiletries, sleepwear—his orderly mind evident in their arrangement. She laughed aloud. Richard even ate in an orderly fashion, consuming each individual item on his plate in a sequence determined by a logic that escaped her.

A casual outfit seemed best. She had the weekend to relax before facing the office on Monday. She dressed, and then an impulse made her unpack everything, transferring them to the walk-in wardrobe with its one wall of shelves and drawers, the other wall already filled with hangers of clothing from the apartment.

She wasn’t going back, ever.

A half hour had passed when she entered the kitchen and Richard looked up. You feel better now? He looked concerned, as if the passage of time had bothered him.

Heather paused. She did feel better, but suspected it was due to his return rather than the shower and change of clothes. Yes. I feel better.

Good. Abigail entered the room and the conversation. You can help me talk sense to this idiot. His father’s endowment has matured and he wants to sign everything over to me.

Heather paused to consider the matter. There’s no legal impediment to him doing so, and probably some tax benefits.

Richard’s father had led a Non Government Organization during the UN’s involvement in Cambodia and had been killed in a helicopter crash, the Russian-built machine falling out of the sky when the rotor blades detached. A canny man, well aware of his wife’s fecklessness with money, he’d set aside the majority of his mandatory insurance to fund Richard’s education with an endowment system, reasoning that an educated Richard would look after his mother better than she could manage on her own. Heather wished she knew more about Abigail’s first husband. How had he known Richard would be the man he was? The fund had matured at Richard’s thirty-first birthday and the capital was now his, to dispose as he pleased. It had to be considerable.

What are you proposing? She directed the question to Richard.

I think a managed income with drawing facilities. My father’s initial purpose is fulfilled and the money is rightfully hers. The brevity of his answer was typical. Richard always used words with economy, choosing them precisely.

It seems fair to me. Heather nodded. Do you propose safeguards against remarriage? Her mind was considering possibilities, as if Abigail were a stranger, one of the transitions she’d found hardest in her legal studies. She still empathized too much with her clients.

Abigail sat looking from one to the other, a curious smile on her face, as if she were watching some predicted outcome. I should have known better, she said. You always ganged up on me.

I think Richard is right, Heather said and then took a long sip of the tea Abigail had made. His father’s letter suggested something similar.

The letter, written against the chance of him dying before he returned to Australia, was a beautiful thing in Heather’s mind. Full of fatherly advice and love, it charged the son with his mother’s care in the event of his death and tendered suggestions, not instructions, as to how this could be accomplished. She’d found it, worn from many readings, among Richard’s papers when she moved into the bungalow, read it, wept over it, understood Richard so much better, and forwarded it to him in Malaysia. She knew Abigail had read it too because the older woman had referred to a passage from it when speaking to Richard by phone.

The conversation drifted along the familiar family paths of shared memories and common interests. There was no mention of Tony, or of Jessica, but this was understandable delicacy on the part of a fond brother and a loving stepmother.

How long will you be home? Abigail asked the question Heather had been avoiding.

I’m not sure—a week or two, at least. We have an Australian client who isn’t quite sure what he wants. I need to clarify the matter before we start work. They’ve not done business in Malaysia before.

I’ll move out of the bungalow, Heather offered. We can empty my old room. It was the storage area now.

Nonsense. I’ll sleep on the couch in the lounge room tonight, but I’ll be traveling around for the rest of the time, visiting the client’s factories to get a feel for their needs. Other than the odd night here and there, I’ll be in the accommodation they provide as part of the contract.

Oh. She could hear Abigail’s disappointment.

Richard obviously heard it too. "Don’t worry. Ramadan begins at the end of the month and my partner is devout. The office comes to a virtual standstill until Eid al-Fitr at its end. I’m taking the time off and you’ll have four weeks to spoil me. We’ll sort out who stays where then."

It was the first reference, however oblique, to her situation, telling her she had time to decide what she wanted to do without interference, typical of Richard.

Jessica aside, her girlfriends had all mooned over him and she was honest enough to see the attraction. Bright intelligent eyes, a great smile, regular features, and an athlete’s lithe body made him an approachable ideal, not handsome in the classical sense, but very attractive and imbued with hints of latent passion kept private from all but a very special woman. This promise alone made him a challenge worth the effort.

Heather suspected Jessica had tried and failed. It would explain a great deal. She could even guess when. Richard had joined them one night at the Crown Casino...

Damn! she said as her memory cleared. I’m expected at Crown Casino this evening. We’re celebrating a big win in the High Court. They invited Tony as well.

Personally—or as your partner? Typically, Richard cut to the core of the problem.

They’ve met him before, but it was as my partner.

Then anyone could go in his place.

Would you? Heather smiled, relieved. It wasn’t the first time he’d stepped into this particular breach, but she doubted she’d ever appreciated it as much.

I’d be honored. His grin was mischievous, but she had an intriguing sense of an underlying truthfulness in his words.

* * * *

Heather stood in front of the mirror examining what she’d achieved. She turned her head to check Abigail’s work with her hair. It was shorter than Richard liked, but would have to do. She’d bought the emerald green dress last week with this night in mind. Her shoes, bought the same day, matched it perfectly, as did the earrings and necklace. Even her lingerie was new, not the most expensive, but delicate enough to make her feel special.

Are you ready? Richard had grown tired of waiting and come to see what was keeping her.

Coming.

A moment’s pause to check the perfection of her makeup and she hurried to the door, opened it, and stood before him.

His response was perfect. A sharp intake of breath, eyes wide in wonder and a smile to warm her soul. You are very beautiful, he said. I’ll be the proudest brother in the world tonight.

Heather wasn’t sure why she thought his reference to their relationship unnecessary.

Abigail enthused over their appearance. Richard’s lightweight suit was Italian cut and fitted him perfectly, his tie a neutral color that complimented her dress more subtly than openly. You look made for each other, she said. "I’m very proud of