Beneath These Chains (Page 73)

She smoothed her hair in what I recognized as a nervous gesture.

“Mama, you don’t have to explain—”

“Let me get it all out, Eleanor.”

I shut my mouth.

“Denton wanted a society wife. Someone who could raise his cachet and take him from being an ambulance chaser to the top. He had the money, and I had the pedigree. He offered me a bargain I couldn’t refuse: to settle all the debts and pay for your college and all I had to do was make the right introductions—and sell my soul to the Devil himself.” She grasped my hand. “But there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done for you to have a chance at making a strong future for yourself. A future where you’d never have to rely on a man to see you through. A future where you’d never be as vulnerable as I was.”

The understanding that had started to crystallize in the kitchen snapped into place. “And I went out of my way to waste it.” I thought about my string of less than prestigious jobs and how I’d thrown them constantly in my mother and Denton’s faces. “You wanted me to be something … to do better … and I’ve been wasting it.” Shame worked through me, and my tears began to fall.

“You were a stubborn one. Always have been.”

“I’m so sorry, Mama. I’m so, so sorry.”

She opened her arms, and I did something I hadn’t done in over a decade: I threw myself into them. She hugged me close like she had when I’d been a little girl. Again I repeated, “I’m so sorry, Mama.” Hindsight was not only twenty-twenty—it carried a machete to hack through your emotions.

“You’re not the only one who’s sorry here. I owe you an apology, too. I’ve been carrying my own resentment for a long time.”

“Because I acted like a spoiled child and wasted the sacrifice you made.”

My mother pulled away and met my eyes. “We all make our own choices. You chose your path for your reasons, and I chose mine. And part of the path I chose was not a good one. I’m … I’m an alcoholic. That’s my demon to battle, and it’s time I faced it.”

I squeezed her against me again. “I’m sorry. I feel like—”

“Don’t you dare say that my problems are your fault. I’m a grown woman, and I can accept now that I let my problem control my life rather than putting myself in the driver’s seat. So, after the funeral, I’ll be going away for a month. From what Martine explained, there’s going to be plenty of time for forgiveness in that process. Knowing that we’re taking the first step right now is going to make this easier as we move forward. It’s time to let the past go so we can both have the futures we deserve.”

I lost track of time as we stood in the foyer, holding on to each other, and recovering a piece of what had been lost and damaged through years of misunderstandings and miscommunications. So much time lost because we’d never told each other how we felt. My mother was right—it was time to let the past go and focus on the future.

Lord didn’t return for several hours, and he’d answered my text message with only: Things got complicated. Will tell you when I get home.

As soon as I heard his heavy, distinctive footsteps, I ran from the library where I’d been sorting out the catering menu. He glanced up just as I threw myself into his arms.

“Goddamn, you feel good.” He breathed in the scent of my hair and squeezed me to the edge of bone-crushing.

“I love you,” I blurted.

Lord’s head jerked up, and his eyes met mine. “You don’t know how bad I needed to hear that right now. I love you too, Elle. So goddamn much.” He crushed me to his chest, and I clung.

There, in his arms, the rest of my shattered pieces melded together into something stronger than before they’d been broken.

When Lord finally set me on my feet, he lifted a hand and trailed a finger down my cheek.

“You’ve been crying.”

Clearly my makeup repair job hadn’t been as good as I’d thought.

“Yeah. My mama and I … we worked some stuff out.”

His features softened. “That’s good to hear. Really good. You talked about rehab?”

“She’d already made the call. She’s going after the funeral. Which is tomorrow, by the way. She just wants to put that bastard in a tomb and move on. Her words, but I think they’re appropriate.”

“That’s good too.” The smile on his face didn’t reach his eyes.

“What’s wrong? Were there more cars stolen?”

“No. Just the one.” He gripped the back of his neck with both hands and stared at the ceiling.

“And Mathieu?”

Lord stared down at me, and the pain in his eyes pierced me.

I stepped toward him and wrapped my arms around him once again.

“How bad is it?” I whispered.

“Really fucking bad.”

His hands settled on my shoulders, and I looked up at him.

“Mathieu’s dead.”

My heart clenched painfully.

“From the accident?”

Lord shook his head, his throat working as he swallowed. “From Hennessy’s bullet.”

I lifted my hand to my mouth. “Oh my God. What happened?”

Lord told me everything—or at least everything he was willing to share. The despair and guilt in his eyes as he told the story tore my heart to shreds.

I reached up to smooth the lines creasing his forehead. “You didn’t do this. You are not responsible for Mathieu’s actions. He made those choices of his own free will.”