My Brother's Keeper
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by Abigail Roux
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance
Description: Someone is playing games in the wealthy suburbs of Miami, using the people of Coral Gables as their chess pieces and murder as their checkmate. When Reggie Bainbridge, the owner and director of The Country Club of Coral Gables, dies unexpectedly, his sons are left to deal with the aftermath: the daily operation of the Club and an unwelcome police investigation into his death. When the brothers realize that someone will be going down for old Reggie's murder, they find themselves playing the game, wondering who to trust and trying to stay out of danger, even if it means playing the game to the end.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: September 2009
35 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [160 KB]
Reading time: 101-142 min.
"It was a lovely service, dear."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hapscomb."
"If you boys need anything, you know where to come."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Fitzgerald, thank you."
"Such a shame, Brayden dear. It's just such a shame."
"Yes, ma'am, Miss Mattie, it is."
The line went on and on; each of Coral Gables' finest and, apparently, oldest, offering their condolences to the two brothers as they droned by in a procession of black lace and heavy tweed.
During the first lull in the line, as Mr. and Mrs. Henderson VI tried desperately to disentangle Mother Henderson's oxygen line from one of her wheelchair wheels, Addison Satterwight turned to glare at his half-brother. He pulled at his tie, betraying his twitchiness. "Told you we should have done a private ceremony," he growled disconsolately under his breath.
Brayden Bainbridge merely smiled serenely in response and wondered what the social repercussions would be for laughing hysterically at your own dearly departed father's funeral. He thought it might be frowned upon, especially when the object of hilarity was a little old lady slowly suffocating because she was too stubborn to take her hand off the "Forward" button on her high-tech, pedestrian-flattening, motorized wheels.
"Are you laughing?" Addison asked him incredulously through gritted teeth.
"I'm honest to God trying not to," Brayden answered in a high-pitched, wavering voice as he fought back the laughter. He covered the lower part of his face with one hand and lowered his head as the line began to move again.
"Oh, my dear, the grief will pass," Mrs. Henderson soothed as she took Brayden's free hand and patted it with a sorrowful shake of her head.
Brayden nodded and closed his eyes, covering his snorting with what he prayed was a believable sniffle. * * * *
Addison and Brayden sat alone in the back of the Town Car, lingering long after the funeral had ended and the other mourners had dispersed. They sat staring past the front seats and out the windshield blankly at the darkening coastal sky, both of them mentally and physically exhausted after the past several days of hectic scuffling and very public mourning.
"Ready to go home?" Brayden finally asked his brother softly. Addison nodded silently, and Brayden knocked on the window to let Wilkins know they were ready to go.
"You want to join me for a drink?" Addison asked, his tone of voice saying he knew Brayden would turn him down.
"Not tonight," Brayden murmured. "Got a club to run." He sighed, turning to look at his half-brother.
Addison merely turned his head and leaned his forehead against his hand, watching the scenery pass silently. * * * *
Addison Satterwight lay back on a wooden lounger and watched the iridescent waves beat relentlessly against the dark sand, his sweating glass held to his temple. His dark hair had become wild and unruly with the long exposure to the salty sea air, and his lithe body was draped ungracefully across the wooden lounger.
"Let's just ... take the boat and go disappear off the edge of the world," he grumbled.
"I see two problems with that little plan," Micah Parrish remarked happily as he walked up behind Addison and sat down on the lounger next to him.
Addison peered through the darkness at the club's tennis pro and sailing instructor, taking in the blue polo shirt and white shorts the man wore. He raised an eyebrow at him, briefly leering at the tanned, muscular view for a moment before it sank in that Micah was wearing his club uniform. "Did you work today?" he asked incredulously.
"Who were you talking to?" Micah asked without answering as he looked out onto the ocean.
"The sea," Addison answered with a distant, slightly drunken smile. "Why are you in uniform?"
"I've been working," Micah responded in an equally incredulous tone. "The whole place didn't get the day off, you know."
"Day off," Brayden Bainbridge drawled darkly from where he had been sitting in the shadows, drinking and watching his younger brother talk to himself. Micah was immediately on his feet with his hands behind his back, head lowered as he tried to peer into the shadows for his boss.
"Jesus, Brayden," Addison breathed after they had both finally spotted him where he sat in the deep shadows of a palm tree. "Are you skulking in the shadows?" he asked with a hint of amusement.
"The only father I've ever known is dead," Brayden murmured as he eyed them both. "I'm drowning my sorrows," he said grimly.
Micah shifted his feet nervously and cleared his throat.
Brayden raised his chin and narrowed his eyes at the man before he could speak. "How were your lessons?" he asked deliberately.
"Uneventful, sir. Mostly the vacationers," Micah answered curtly. "Teaching their debutantes and trust-fund babies how to play a little tennis for all the free time in their futures," he muttered almost under his breath.
"You seem to be awfully condescending when referring to the people who help pay your salary," Brayden observed coldly. He saw Addison turn his head and sigh audibly, and he watched Micah raise his chin defiantly in the silhouette of the moonlight.
"My apologies," the man murmured in place of the vitriolic comment Brayden had expected from him. "I'm sorry for your loss," he added with just a hint of sarcasm before half-turning to Addison. He petted him on the top of the head and then walked away, down the moonlit path and back toward the clubhouse.
"You're a real fuck sometimes, you know that?" Addison said to Brayden as soon as Micah was out of earshot.
"You keep talking to the ocean, I'm going to have you put away and steal your inheritance," Brayden responded before taking another sip of his drink.
"Hmph," Addison offered sulkily, but he didn't respond otherwise.
Brayden smirked triumphantly and sighed contentedly. It wasn't often that Addison couldn't come up with a smartass response to something he said. Even though he knew it was the liquor at fault, he still counted it as a point for him on their imaginary chalkboard. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the cool night breeze and tried to enjoy the sound of the ocean.
The country club pretty much ran itself day to day. When they'd returned to the club after the funeral, there really hadn't been much for Brayden to do. He just hadn't wanted to go home to a house that would echo his footsteps in the darkness. Why Addison hadn't gone home either, Brayden couldn't guess. He had long ago stopped trying to keep up with his brother's mind. He'd come out here, knowing this was where Addison would eventually show up if he was still at the club, and he'd sat down with his drink to wait. Just in case.
"How long were you sitting there?" Addison asked after a while.
"Actually, I was sitting here when you came stumbling out," Brayden answered as he picked up his glass and turned it around through the air until the melting ice inside was going in circles.
"Did you see me face-plant into the sand?" Addison asked with a drunken laugh.
Brayden huffed and answered, "I did. I thought briefly about helping you up, but watching you wallow was more entertaining, in the end."
Addison responded with a disgruntled huff, leaning back in the lounger and flailing briefly when the thing almost tipped him out of it. He wound up wearing what was left of his melted ice and cursing softly as he brushed at it.
Brayden chuckled. His half-brother was probably the only person in the world who could fall out of a lounge chair that was literally bolted to the deck.
In the distance of the still night, there was a shuffling sound on the wooden boardwalk, as if someone had started down the path toward the beach, heard Addison and Brayden out there talking, and turned around. Brayden knew that the cleaning crew was still out and about, and he figured one of the janitors had expected to find Addison sitting out here alone. One thing Brayden knew about his brother was that he was generous with his stash of pot.
Addison turned to look, peering into the darkness to try to see who it had been. He looked back at Brayden, shrugged, and then settled back into his chair.
Brayden watched him, knowing what was running through his brother's mind.
"Hey, Brayden?" Addison murmured after a long silence in which they both sat with their own thoughts. "Why do you think he did it?" he asked softly.
"Huh?" Brayden asked in feigned confusion. He shifted uncomfortably and swirled his drink nervously. He wasn't good at this kind of thing. The less of it he could do, the better off everyone was.
"Father. He killed himself, didn't he?" Addison responded with a certainty Brayden had rarely heard in his capricious brother's voice. "Why, do you think?"
Brayden sat up and blinked through the dim light, squinting to see past the blurry vision of his whiskey. Sometimes Addison still surprised him. "What makes you think he killed himself?" he asked, his voice laced with morbid fascination.
"He was in good health his last checkup," Addison pointed out.
"He was also a heavy drinker, and his kidneys finally gave out, man," Brayden countered as he leaned forward into the light, glancing back down the path with a frown. He wasn't sure if they were being overheard. He supposed it wasn't really important, though, in the end.
Addison glanced at him with a shake of his head and then looked back out to the sea wordlessly. Brayden sighed and flopped back onto the lounger.
His younger brother had always been the black sheep of the family: flighty and hot-headed and restless. He had even taken his mother's maiden name just to piss off their dad when he had turned eighteen. But Addison had never been one to come to conclusions hastily, nor was his mind easily changed once he reached a decision. Everyone in Coral Gables knew that.
If Addison believed their father had killed himself, then he would believe it until the day he died or someone proved him wrong. * * * *
"Mr. Bainbridge, you have a guest waiting at the reception area. Mr. Bainbridge.... "
Brayden looked up at the cleverly hidden speaker when the announcement started and then back down at the club member with whom he had been chatting for one last word and a smile.
"Excuse me, will you, Mr. Graham? It seems my brother is nowhere to be found today, and suddenly I'm needed everywhere," he said in a honey-smooth voice as he shook the old man's hand.
"You're doing a fine job, young man, fine job. It's as if old Reggie were never gone," Mr. Graham assured him with a manly pat to his shoulder before he stuffed his cigar between his thick lips again and turned back to the game of cards he and his cronies had been enjoying.
Brayden smiled as he straightened and said goodbye to the group of some of the club's oldest, most important members. He smiled right up until he had turned away and made sure no one could see him. Then the smile dropped off into a snarl as he stalked toward the reception area of the country club.
He glided up to the greeter's desk and pinned Julie with his dark eyes. "How many times must I go over the not using the PA system for anything but emergencies?" he asked sarcastically, his voice a soft, threatening growl.
"I know, sir. I'm very sorry, but--"
"There are no three strikes here, Julie," Brayden snarled as he held up one finger and pointed it at her threateningly.
"I ... I think you need to see these gentlemen," the timid little brunette stuttered desperately. "I didn't want to keep them waiting, and no one could find you," she protested.
Brayden narrowed his eyes and snarled a little more before turning around to head for the Hospitality Room, the room in which all things unwanted were stored: hats, coats, umbrellas, children, non-members.
He stopped short when he entered the atrociously decorated room. It was intended to dissuade anyone from staying past their very short period of welcome. It had always worked on Brayden, anyway. He never got used to just how ugly it was. Once his eyes had gotten past the pink carpeting, the blue flowers on green wallpaper, and the frilly green-and-pink-striped furniture, he saw that Addison had indeed disappeared, right into the Hospitality Room. He had apparently been found first and sent here to babysit two men who could be nothing other than police detectives.
They were different stereotypes, Brayden thought with some amusement, but they were stereotypes all the same. They were complete opposites. Black and white. Smiling and frowning. Casual and uptight.
The happier of the two wore a crisp white shirt and faded jeans, with a badge hanging on a chain around his neck. He was a large man, possibly as tall as Brayden himself if he'd been standing, and obviously fit as well. His head was completely shaved, making the top of his dark head shine with the light from the gaudy art deco chandelier.
The other one was blond and tanned from hours and hours in the sun. Brayden guessed it wasn't the type of tan one got while lying on a beach. He sported a worn brown suit that seemed to have wilted in the hot Florida summer, and he had a badge attached to his belt where it couldn't be seen unless he pushed back his suit coat to reveal it and his gun.
A uniformed officer stood near the coat rack in the corner, trying not to stare at the green and blue wallpaper. Probably trying to keep his corneas from being seared.
Brayden took them all in quickly and then looked at Addison with alarm clear in his dark eyes.
"Gentlemen," he greeted in a stunned voice as he edged further into the room and closed the door behind him, glancing again at Addison questioningly.
"Brayden," Addison said in a low voice as the two detectives stood and turned toward him. His brother's tone and expression were both unreadable, and that more than anything made Brayden very nervous. Addison's thoughts and feelings were almost always hanging right out there for all to see.
"Mr. Bainbridge, thank you for joining us," the black detective said, showing his badge briefly and then sliding it back onto his belt. "I'm Detective Morgan; this is Detective Walker," he informed Brayden with a wave of his hand at his silent partner. His voice wasn't as deep as Brayden had expected it to be.
"Is there a problem?" Brayden asked in a still slightly stunned voice, looking from the detectives to Addison with a frown.
"I'm afraid there is," Morgan answered with a sorrowful nod. "It seems that your father may have been murdered, Mr. Bainbridge."
Brayden blinked stupidly and looked at Addison again to see if this wasn't some sort of sick joke. "Murdered," he repeated in an incredulous voice.
"Yes, sir," Morgan responded. "We're going to try and keep our investigation as far from the eyes of your members as we can, but we expect full cooperation in return for our troubles," he said sternly.
"Investigation?" Brayden echoed with a frown.
"If you're not willing to cooperate," Detective Walker murmured in a low, growling voice, "we can make the club a very unsavory place to spend time at this summer."
Brayden blinked and then bit back the snarl the threat almost elicited. "Detectives," he gritted out, "we are, of course, willing to cooperate with any investigation you deem necessary. But ... he wasn't murdered," he protested with a helpless little gesture of his hand. "He drank himself to death. His heart and his kidneys gave out. It's as simple as that."
"I'm afraid it's not as simple as all that, Mr. Bainbridge," Detective Morgan corrected gently. "Your father's death was not due to natural circumstances, and we suspect the perpetrator may have been one of your employees or guests."
"What?" Addison blurted out as he stood up from the ruffled and striped green and pink monstrosity upon which he had been seated. "That's preposterous; no one here could be a murderer! These are good people!"
"Sonny," Brayden snapped as Addison's voice threatened to carry past the soundproofing of the world's most hideous wallpaper. There was also soundproofing in the walls, but Brayden was nothing if not thorough.
Addison glared at him but remained silent, beginning to pace restlessly instead.
Walker flipped open a little notepad and began scanning handwritten notes in the ensuing silence, and finally he read what he'd been looking for. He looked up at Brayden and asked, "When did your father begin drinking heavily?"
"I'm sorry," Brayden asked with a hand held up, as if asking for a timeout. "But what makes you think he was murdered?"
"Mr. Bainbridge, please answer the question," Walker responded in a near monotone.
"It was about two months ago," Addison interjected. "He started showing up to events drunk; slurring his speech and falling all over everything. Why?" he demanded.
"Did he exhibit signs of confusion?" Walker inquired without answering any questions of his own.
"The only thing our father was ever confused about was the difference between a bishop and a rook. Please answer our questions," Brayden demanded, getting angrier and frustrated with their officious attitudes.
"I'm afraid we can't divulge the particulars behind our investigation as yet," Morgan answered after a moment of silence. "We'll need to question all your employees who were working the party the night your father died."
"Fine," Brayden allowed with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"And we would also like permission to exhume the body," Morgan added.
"No," Addison said immediately.
Brayden looked at him in surprise as the two detectives gave each other a pointed look.
"I'm not going to bury him again," Addison told them. "You do your investigation or whatever, but you're not digging him up," he stated defiantly.
Brayden gave the kid a closer look, seeing determination that was rarely present in Addison's eyes, and he remained quiet because of it.
"Very well," Morgan acquiesced. "I must warn you, however, we may have to come back with a warrant."
"You do that, then," Addison responded with a nod. "Until then, may he rest in fucking peace," he spat, stalking out of the room and exiting with a resounding slam of the door against the wall before anyone could reply.
Brayden watched him stride down the hallway toward the reception area and then turned back to the two detectives, completely mystified. "I apologize for my brother," he offered. "It's been quite an emotional time around here. I hope you understand," he said smoothly, finally hurtling over the shock and turning on the ever-present inner switch that forced him to be an ever-gracious host.
"Of course," Morgan answered with an ingratiating smile of his own. "Can you tell us, Mr. Bainbridge, what the Country Club of Coral Gables does with the five gallons of ethylene glycol it orders every month?"
"With the what?" Brayden asked, nonplussed and a bit thrown off by the sudden change in questioning.
"Ethylene glycol," Detective Walker answered with a smug smirk. "Antifreeze, Mr. Bainbridge."
Brayden blinked at the man and cocked his head. "Well," he started slowly, "I would assume we use it to keep shit from freezing," he answered sarcastically.
"What is the size of the club's motorcade?" Morgan asked before Walker could respond.
"I'm not sure, right off hand," Brayden answered honestly. "There are a few dozen vans and utility trucks. Several hundred golf carts and roughly a dozen of those damn green all-terrain things. I can get the numbers for you."
"That would be very helpful," Morgan replied with a nod. "We'll also need a list of everyone who was present the night your father died."
"You mean at the party?" Brayden asked. "The people who worked it?"
"And the club members present," Walker added.
Brayden stared at them incredulously. "The guest list?" he asked
"Yes, sir," the two detectives answered simultaneously.
"Do you realize how many people that is?" Brayden asked, aghast.
"I'm afraid we do, sir," Morgan answered drolly.
"Or who that list will include?" Brayden added as his mind whirled through just how much family money these two detectives were about to rifle through. "You don't plan to question them all, do you?" he asked in horror.
"I'm afraid we can't say, Mr. Bainbridge. We will, of course, attempt to remain subtle," Walker responded insincerely. "We're also going to need to see where you store your automotive products. Today."
"Right now," Morgan added grimly.
"Of course," Brayden murmured with one last shell-shocked look at them both as he tried to process all they were asking for. "Please follow me," he requested as he turned on his heel and headed out of the room.
They received several odd looks from the few members of the club's staff they passed as Brayden Bainbridge led Detectives Morgan and Walker through the upper halls of the club. It was obvious from the stiff way Brayden held himself that he was not pleased, and it was obvious, too, that the two men following in his wake did not belong in the club.
He asked them to wait in the antechamber of the private office that was still filled with all of their father's things while he went in to find the information they had requested. Brayden looked around the antechamber for a wistful moment, remembering all the times he and Addison had been relegated to the old leather couch as punishment for some youthful misdeed.
"Just a moment, gentlemen," Brayden murmured to the detectives as he shook off the memories and turned to the office.
"What the hell, Brayden?" Addison demanded of him as soon as he pushed through the heavy oak door and stepped inside.
It didn't click closed behind him, but Brayden was too distracted to pay much attention to it. He had expected Addison to be skulking in their father's office. His office, rather. But he hadn't quite expected Addison to be in his face as soon as he stepped through the door.
"Calm down," he urged quietly as he went to the huge desk in the center of the room.
"No, no. Why are they here?" Addison asked with a random point in the general direction of the door. "Why are they saying that Father was murdered?"
"Sonny, just be calm, okay?" Brayden hissed. He was distantly impressed with himself, with how much better he was handling this conversation than the last one they'd had regarding their father's death.
He moved toward the desk and shushed his brother as he thought of how easy it was to hear what they were saying. He and Addison had always been able to hear his father's arguments with his various girlfriends through the air vent that connected the office to the private antechamber. His father had never known, and it was one of the first things Brayden planned to have fixed after this was over.
"I don't know what information they're going on," he told Addison. "But they're asking very specific questions, and since they're not going to find anything, they'll be gone soon. Just ... hey, why don't you take a vacation or something, huh?" he suggested distractedly as he thumbed through a file, looking for the numbers the detectives had requested.
"What?" Addison snapped, looking at Brayden in horror. "You want me to pick up and leave after being questioned by the police about the possibility of my father's murder?" he asked in a high-pitched voice that wavered incredulously. "Jesus, Brayden, if you want the inheritance I'll give it to you, but don't send me to jail!" he shouted sarcastically.
Brayden looked up with a blink and shook his head. "Christ, you're right," he muttered. He set the file down and pushed away from the antique teak desk. "Sorry," he offered weakly as he walked over and put his arm around Addison's shoulder to calm him.
Addison huffed in return and crossed his arms over his chest, his jaw setting defiantly.
"It'll be okay, little brother," Brayden soothed with a pat to Addison's arm. "We'll just have to give them whatever they ask for and make sure they're gone before anyone starts getting wind of trouble."
"If it gets out that they even think Father was murdered, the whole place will implode," Addison responded grimly as he shook off Brayden's hand and began to pace.
"We just won't let that happen then, will we?" Brayden murmured.