Authors: Lisa Cardiff
Sins of My Father
Black Brothers Series, Book One
By Lisa Cardiff
Sins of My Father
Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Cardiff. All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: June 2015
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
To my mom.
Table of Contents
I lifted the remote off my desk, and pressed the back button and then play. An interview with Senator Thomas Wharton replayed for the tenth time on my TV screen.
“Have you decided whether you’ll run for president next year?” the blonde with too much makeup and a condescending smile asked.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to say yes or no to that question before the end of the year,” Senator Wharton answered. His bright white veneers shined like he was on a shoot for a toothpaste commercial instead of sitting down for a Monday morning television interview.
“So three months? Why the delay?” the woman said, pressing for information when anybody with ten brain cells knew he’d never give her the real answer. Politicians offered platitudes, not truths, and that reality was especially true of Senator Wharton.
“Right now, I’m going to focus on midterm elections, writing legislation that helps the middle-class, and celebrating the holidays with my beautiful family. Then, when the New Year rolls around, I intend to take the pulse of the country, my constituents, and my family, and make a final decision.”
I pressed the pause button, staring at the flickering image of the man I had hated since I turned five years old.
“It’s time to act. There’s no way that man will occupy the Oval Office while I still have breath in my lungs,” I said, turning to my best friend and half-brother, Knox.
We grew up in the same shitty trailer on a desolate bluff in Arizona plagued by monsoon winds. We endured a childhood under the nonexistent supervision of the same alcoholic mom with self-destructive tendencies miles long. We attended the same underprivileged and underfunded schools with torn books and battle-weary teachers. I clawed my way into Harvard, and he secured a place at the Naval Academy through a combination of hard work and letters to Senator Wharton that reeked of blackmail. When I started my company, Knox was the first person I hired, because he was the only person I would ever trust.
Knox glared at me through his black hipster glasses both of us knew he didn’t need. At thirty years old, Knox was two years younger than me. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he was the light to my dark, and not just physically. Somehow, Knox made it through our childhood house of horrors and six-plus years of military service without tainting his soul. I hadn’t even seen half the shit he had, and I couldn’t say the same thing about myself.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Knox plopped down into the deep cushioned, camel leather couch that stretched along the back wall of my office.
“More than anything.” I reached into my desk drawer, snagging two Cuban cigars from my rosewood humidor. I clipped the ends of both cigars and held one out to him. “This calls for a celebration, don’t you think?”
“No thanks. You know I can’t stand the things.”
“I know.” I lit my cigar, took a couple puffs, and exhaled two perfect concentric rings.
“Don’t you think you should let the past go?” Knox finally said, his voice low and reflective. “You have millions of dollars in the bank, homes in at least four different cities, you date beautiful women, and you have the best brother in the world.” He chuckled at his attempt at making a joke. “What more could you want?”
As I slid the red and gold paper band off my cigar, I looked back at Senator Wharton’s frozen image on the screen. I hated everything about that man, from his carefully groomed hair to his penchant for Ferragamo loafers, and his trademark fake smile.
Pacing around my desk, I surveyed every detail of the office I considered more of a home than the place I slept at night. Large antique walnut desk. Wood paneled walls. Looped tan carpet. Floor to ceiling windows. My corner office occupied at least five hundred prime square feet of real estate overlooking the Potomac River. I’d come a long way from a run-down trailer in the middle of the desert.
Knox was right. I had more money than I could spend in five lifetimes. I had power, influence, name recognition, and every material thing imaginable at my fingertips, but I hadn’t achieved the one thing that had fueled my desire for success over the last twenty-seven years.
“Revenge. I want revenge,” I pointed at the TV screen, “that ends with the complete and utter destruction of that man and every person in his life.”
“Are you sure you want to do this? It will change everything.”
“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.” It was the absolute truth. Every decision in my life had been made with this moment in mind.
Knox sighed and propped his gray chukka clad feet on the circular glass coffee table. “I don’t understand it, but if it’s what you want, I’m all in. I’ll help any way I can.”
“Is it possible to have fun at these parties?” A warm, velvety voice mixed with a hint of steel washed over my body, causing the hair on my arms to stand at attention.
Reluctantly, I looked up from my phone. Dark glossy hair, even darker eyes, heavily stubbled jaw line—but in a perfectly groomed sort of way—chiseled even features, broad shoulders, and a narrow waist, all wrapped up in a black suit that managed to be both professional and sinful. I hadn’t seen him at one of these parties before. He must have been new to this scene, and by scene I meant the political cesspool of D.C.
My mom married the distinguished Senator Thomas Wharton from Arizona when I was twelve, and I successfully evaded these parties for four years until his advisors decided I was an asset to his image. Now, I was veteran. I’d been coming to these things for eight years. Each one was infinitely more painful than the last.
Like a worthless spectator, I watched people blow smoke up my stepdad’s ass and funnel shady money into even shadier black holes over and over, night after night, until any faith I had in our political system evaporated. Politics in action didn’t resemble the lofty principles touted by my high school civics teacher. Not even close. In fact, it reminded me of the smoky, backroom deals crafted in mafia movies.
“It depends on your idea of fun,” I answered dryly. I briefly met his chocolate eyes before returning my attention to the increasingly heated texts between my best friend Winnie and me. She promised she’d come to the fundraiser tonight, but she ditched me to go to some new club. I was mad, but I didn’t blame her. If I had anything resembling a backbone, I wouldn’t subject myself to these parties either.
“Is this your idea of fun?” he asked, leaning against the wall and crossing his ankles, an amused smile dancing at the corners of his lush mouth. An annoying jolt of adrenaline flooded my veins. The way his lips curled up at the corners as though he knew my most embarrassing secret almost made me blush.
“Isn’t it yours?” I retorted, evading his too intense stare. He probably thought I could introduce him to my stepdad. It wouldn’t happen. We spoke on an as-needed basis. When I visited, we passed each other in the halls of his D.C. townhouse barely acknowledging each other. In public, it was another story. He pretended we were the perfect family, but I didn’t care. It could be worse. I could have Winnie’s parents. I’d take indifference over active disdain any day of the week.
“No.” He paused and then cocked his head to the side, his gaze hooded. “I can think of a million better ways to spend a Friday night.”
His dark hair tickled the collar of his pressed white dress shirt. My fingers itched to touch the inky strands to see if they were as silky as they looked. I groaned inwardly. I needed to get a hold of my stupid emotions. This was a stuffy political fundraiser, not a speed dating event or a bar.
I stuffed my phone into my black clutch. “Then why are you here?”
“I was invited.”
“Lucky you,” I answered with a subtle trace of sarcasm. I painted a bright smile on my face to dampen the effect. I never wanted to piss someone off too much, especially someone I didn’t know. You never knew when that person might be useful to the Wharton political machine. While I hated everything about that ruthless machine, I decided long ago to go along for the ride rather than buck the tide. As much as I’d love to be the modern day David and take down Goliath, I didn’t believe I was the person to do the job, so I pushed all my conflicting emotions out of my mind long ago. It’d been incredibly easy. Too easy.
“Maybe.” His eyes drifted from my mouth down my body, pausing on the chest of my fitted, standard issue black cocktail dress. By standard issue, I didn’t mean boring. The designer dress hugged my curvy body in all the right places, but it was understated enough not to ruffle the feathers of my stepdad’s political advisors, yet feminine enough to satisfy my mom’s not so subtle desire for me to land a powerful husband. I had at least twenty similar dresses in my closet selected and approved by my stepdad’s advisors who never overlooked an opportunity, no matter how small, to manipulate public opinion.
His lips curled into a cocky smile that managed to piss me off even more. “I’m Archer.” He held out his hand, but I didn’t acknowledge the gesture.
Except for the two of us, the gilded-wood paneled Georgian-inspired hallway was empty, which meant I didn’t need to feign interest in him or anyone else at that second. In my opinion, the hallway was a safe zone, kind of like seeking sanctuary in a church in the middle ages.
“Thanks for sharing,” I responded.
“In polite conversation, it’s custom to shake my hand and offer your name in return.” He cocked one eyebrow, reminding me how much I hated the gesture. My stepfather used it on half the world—myself included—to express his contempt and overall condescension for any idea except his own.
I raised my eyebrows and folded my arms across my chest. “Is that what this is?”
He tapped his fingers on the wall behind him. “I’d like it to be.”
“That’s too bad, because I’ve met my quota of polite conversation today.” I tilted my head to the side as though I were contemplating my words. “Actually, I’ve met my quota for the entire year. Find someone who’s interested in indulging in shallow, meaningless conversation.” I flung my arm toward the door of the ballroom. “There’s a whole room full of people in there spewing disingenuous words and insincere platitudes like confetti. You’re free to join them.”
He chuckled. The sound of his deep, masculine laugh did foolish things to my heart and sent my synapses into overdrive. Shit. I didn’t want my body to react to this man, or any man remotely connected to my stepdad. If either my mom or my stepdad suspected I harbored any interest in a man in their circle of associates, they’d start inventing reasons to shove him in my face. Trust me, it happened in the past, and it ended badly. Even if this man was the exception, being connected to my stepdad was an automatic black mark in my mind.
“I’d prefer to talk to someone I don’t know,” he answered with a courteous look on his face.
I rolled my fingers over the individual nubs of my two-tiered pearl necklace, squeezing each one harder than necessary. “Are you saying you don’t know who I am?” I didn’t mean to act like a pompous bitch, but everybody who was anyone knew who I was, or at least at these events and in these elite political circles.
His lips quivered, but he brushed his hands over his mouth to conceal his reaction. “Right. You’re Senator Wharton’s daughter, but I usually like to start a conversation with an introduction, some small talk, and then who knows...” His voice trailed off, and he popped the button on his suit jacket, fingering something in his pocket. A flask? A phone? You could never tell at these events. If I could hide a flask in my bra, I would’ve done it. My stepdad’s spies counted my drinks at these events, not that I had a problem. It was one of many preventative measures to ensure no unsavory events occurred, which might overshadow the purpose of the evening.
“Stepdaughter,” I snapped before I could stop myself. I hated that everyone conveniently dropped the “step” from my relationship with Senator Wharton. I had a dad. He died when I was ten years old, but that didn’t mean I wanted to wipe him from my memory and forget his blood ran through my veins. My mother may have dumped his name and tried to erase him from our collective memories, but I wouldn’t forget. I loved him, all of him, even his faults. He was real in a way my stepdad could never be, and that said a lot considering my dad’s occupation and the circumstances surrounding his death.
He shoved his hand through his slightly wavy, dark hair. “He didn’t adopt you?”
“No.” I didn’t need to answer the question. It wasn’t his business, but I hated when people assumed he had adopted me. I didn’t want him to be my father. Except for giving me shelter and food, he didn’t raise me. I couldn’t even say he cared about me with any degree of certainty.
He nodded, his eyes examining me, and I prayed to whoever cared that I managed to keep my face neutral and scrubbed of any emotion. I didn’t need my lukewarm, sometimes cold relationship with Senator Wharton to become common knowledge. It’d hurt my mom, and it’d send my stepdad’s political advisors into a tizzy. I didn’t need another session with his PR team to coach me how to behave in public, especially now that my stepdad had hired an exploratory committee to determine whether he should run for president. I expected him to announce his candidacy by the end of the month. His political advisors already emailed me a weekly briefing containing my schedule and talking points.
Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart
blared from my phone, and the tension tugging at my muscles released ever so slightly. The song was my anthem these days as I let my stepdad’s life steal a little bit of my soul day by day.
I pulled the phone out of my purse. “It’s my alarm.”
I smiled as I turned off the alarm. “To leave.”
“I’ll walk you out.” He pushed his body away from the wall and held out his arm in some antiquated gentlemanly gesture that would be endearing if I were interested in him. I wasn’t. His sexy smile and even sexier swagger didn’t do anything for me. Well, not anything I’d admit to any living creature, including myself.
“No thanks.” I breezed by him. I had no intention of taking his arm or touching him. I didn’t know anything about him except his name. With as many secrets as my family had, I couldn’t trust strangers, and I didn’t want anything to do with Archer.
Okay…maybe I exaggerated. There was a split second there where I imagined him stripped of his black suit, white starched shirt, and emerald and charcoal striped tie, his obviously broad shoulders and narrow waist exposed. Something about him made me crave really stupid things… like licking the side of his neck or biting his delicious lower lip. If I were anyone else, I might have indulged in the impulse, but I couldn’t. I was Langley Mayer, ice queen, daughter of the late actor Rick Mayer, and prop for Senator Wharton’s nonexistent compassionate side, which meant I wouldn’t do a damn thing.
My red heels echoed off the walls as I breezed down the marble-tiled hallway, eating up the space between the exit and me one click at a time. Unfortunately, I heard the leather-soled shuffle of Archer’s shoes following me. If I made it to the front doors, taxis would be lined up next to the curb. I could slide in the backseat of one before I had to exchange another word with him. I couldn’t take my parents’ chauffeured car because I didn’t want the driver to report my comings and goings to my mom.
Three steps before I reached the double glass doors, Archer darted forward and pushed it open for me. I paused, and he arched his eyebrows, daring me to do what? Ignore him? Reverse my course and go back to the party? Like someone had just suggested I scrape my nails over a chalkboard, I shivered at the thought of returning to the party. I didn’t know how much longer I could successfully avoid Brandon. Turning back wasn’t an option.
I backpedaled a few feeble steps. Archer’s jaw tightened, and his formerly warm chocolate eyes darkened. As my mind contemplated my next move, I spotted a few photographers waiting at the end of the walkway. I wasn’t famous…not by any stretch of my imagination, but my photo did occasionally appear in newspaper and website gossip columns. I hated it. They discussed my stepdad’s political career. They speculated on my real dad’s drug overdose, which meant references to whether I’d follow in his self-destructive footsteps.
I did the only thing I could do to avoid unwanted attention. I sauntered out of the building, head held high, shoulders squared, and a not quite sincere smile cracking the corners of my mouth.
“Thank you,” I said, tipping my head to Archer.
Within seconds, he closed the space between us, and his hand connected with my lower back. The heat from the palm of his hand scorched the silk blend of my dress, stealing my breath and setting my body on fire.
Of their own volition and entirely without my permission, my eyes locked on his, and a breezy, almost nonexistent tremor journeyed the length of my spine. The lopsided grin on his face told me without words that my reaction to his touch didn’t go unnoticed. I bit back a sharp retort as bulbs flashed in my face, capturing the moment. Great, just what I wanted to avoid.
He opened the back door of the first available taxi and signaled for me to enter with an elegant sweep of his hand. As I leaned forward to tell the driver my destination, Archer slipped into the backseat beside me.
“The Lux,” he said.
“Wait. What?” My mind whirled. How did he know my destination? Did he plan to go with me?
He pulled the door closed. “We’re going to the same place. We might as well share the cab.”
My eyes landed on his mouth for at least the fifth time in the last twenty minutes. Breaking the trance, I jerked my gaze to small scratches on the Plexiglas separating us from the driver. Slowly, I scooted across the seat, pressing my body against the sticky, duct taped vinyl on the inside of the opposite door. “You’re freaking me out. How do you know I’m going there?”