Brighter Than the Sun Page 83

I just wanted to say how sorry I am that I lied to you and Dad and deceived the family and brought danger to you all. I wouldn’t hurt any of you for the world. Y’all are my world. I have to go away for a while. I need to figure out my place in the world, what I want out of life, what kind of life I want to have. I have a degree and job opportunities, and it’s time I took advantage of them. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll stay in touch and I’ll call you as often as I can. And please don’t be angry over my decision or that I didn’t say good-bye. It was hard enough to write this letter. I would have never been able to tell you all of this in person.

I’m young, and as a result, I did something foolish, and now I have to suffer the consequences, but it’s also time to close that chapter of my life and move on and try to forget. I know I don’t have the right to ask anything of you, but I would ask that you not let the others know where I am or what I’m doing. Just know that I’ll be just fine. You and Dad taught me how to be the kind of person I can be proud of and that y’all can be proud of.

I’ll be in touch as soon as I’m able. Tell Dad that I could have never asked for a better father. The second greatest gift you both gave to me was the Kelly name, and I’ll do my best to do that name proud.

Love you,

Rusty

Marlene clasped the paper to her chest as sobs welled in her throat. Then she leaned over, folding her arms on the counter, and buried her face against them as grief overwhelmed her.

• • •

SEAN pulled into the compound in his personal vehicle, his hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel. He could feel sweat forming at his nape and trickling down his back. Jesus, he was as nervous and as jittery as a rookie participating in his first big bust. He hadn’t been this unsettled when he had been a rookie and had gotten shot in his first year as a deputy.

That was what she did to him, though. She had him so twisted up in knots that he never knew if he was coming or going, and as a result, everything that came out of his mouth came out horribly wrong.

As he pulled to a stop in front of Frank and Marlene’s house, he briefly closed his eyes, regret consuming him. He’d hurt her. He’d done more than hurt her. He’d fucking devastated her. Had ripped her to shreds, said shit he didn’t even mean, all because of the thought of what could have happened to her, what he had no way of protecting her from because he had no clue what she’d done.

Well, he finally knew exactly what he wanted to say, damn it. Figures that he finally got it worked out and she hadn’t so much as stuck her head out of her damn house in a week. He refused to wait a minute longer. Refused to allow her to think the absolute worst a minute longer. He’d make her listen to him, and this time, he’d get his fucking mouth and tongue to work in unison so he could say everything he wanted to say.

He trudged up the steps and rang the doorbell, his stomach tightening with dread. He’d treated her horribly. She probably hated him now. What if she wouldn’t listen to him? No. He wasn’t taking no for an answer. If it meant handcuffing the little hellion and hauling her out of the house over his shoulder and over to his, where he’d secure her to one of his chairs, he’d make her listen.

The door opened and Marlene stood there, deep lines of sadness in her face, her cheeks blotchy, nose and eyes swollen. What the fuck? His stomach bottomed out as concern for a woman he considered his adopted mother pushed to the forefront.

“Marlene, is everything all right?” he asked sharply.

Her lips tightened but she didn’t reply. Instead she quietly asked, “What can I do for you, Sean?”

It wasn’t like Marlene to be so . . . private . . . but maybe it was a personal matter and he needed to butt out. Besides, he’d just drag it out of Rusty after he got everything else off his chest.

“I’d like to talk to Rusty,” he said in a grim tone. “I won’t take no for an answer either. She can come downstairs or I can go up, but either way, she’s going to talk to me.”

Marlene wiped hastily at her eyes. “She’s gone,” she said tearfully.

Sean flinched, feeling as though he’d suffered a vicious body blow. For several long seconds, he couldn’t breathe.

“What do you mean, she’s gone?” he asked hoarsely.

“She was so upset and feels she let everyone down,” Marlene said in a grief-stricken voice. “Donovan apologized and even offered her a job heading up the foundation. She impressed him greatly with all she managed to do creating such an elaborate, foolproof background for Zoe, but she told him she had other job offers and that she was just home for the summer before deciding which job to take.”

She pulled a tissue from the pocket of her skirt and dabbed at her eyes and nose.

“She blames herself for what happened, and she was so hurt by how her brothers reacted. I believe she feels as though she failed them—us, me—and now she needs time to regroup and prove herself worthy. God, Sean, of what? Of whom? She is so very loved, and I couldn’t be more proud of her if she was of my own blood.”

Sean put a hand to the back of his neck, sick to his very soul. He was the reason Rusty had left, not her family. He was the one who’d ripped her to shreds, rejected her and humiliated her. Not her family. And he’d been too damn angry and scared out of his mind at the time over what could have happened to her to make her understand why he’d been so furious.

Oh God, she’d never forgive him. How could she when he’d never be able to forgive himself?

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