Her Lover's Legacy
August 1, 2008
read an excerpt
Rebel with a cause vs. woman on a mission
The Houston Tattler
Heir-apparent Malcolm Braddock may be the sexiest community activist under the Houston sun, but clearly he's met his match in Gloria Kingsley, the late senator Harmon Braddock's strikingly beautiful executive assistant. Both were recently spotted in a limo in a very...um...compromising position, and it appears Ms. Kingsley is influencing more than the brooding, lone-wolf bachelor's normally conservative sense of fashion (when she lets him stay dressed, of course!)
We can conclude that Gloria is on a mission to make No-Commitments-Malcolm her Mr. Right. But with rumors flying about Senator Braddock--and a few dirty little secrets that didn't die with him--can she get Malcolm to secure his father's mantle as well.
It was the second worst day of Malcolm Braddock’s life. The first was three days ago when he received the news about his father’s fatal car crash. Ever since then, he’d been numb-walking and talking in a daze.
Malcolm tightened his grip around his mother’s shoulders and watched the ever graceful, Evelyn Braddock draw her chin higher and somehow keep her shimmering tears from streaking down her ageless face. A forty year marriage-over without a single warning.
He couldn’t imagine what she must be thinking-feeling.
His baby sister, Shondra, was another story. Though to a stranger’s eye she looked calm, cool and collective, anyone who knew Shawnie wouldn’t have missed the dull, listlessness of her brown eyes, the dark circles and the puffy red nose rubbed raw from endless wiping. She was falling apart.
Malcolm grinded his molars together, anger and helplessness finally penetrated his numb armor. Thank God for his brother Tyson, an unexpected and welcomed rock of Gibraltar who anchored the family and kept it together. As the eldest son, that should have been Malcolm’s job.
A fine mist of rain descended from Texas’s slate-gray sky while fat thunderclouds gathered menacingly above the large group of mourners surrounding Congressman Harmon Braddock’s gravesite. Reverend Vereen made his appeals to the heavens about mercy and forgiveness but Malcolm had tuned all that out when the black and chrome casket began its descent into the freshly turned earth.
Acidic tears burned Malcolm’s eyes while his breath stalled in his lungs. No! Wait! I’m not ready yet. But time, like it has for the past three days, refused to stop and wait for him to catch up and wrap his brain around what was happening.
His father was dead.
“In sure and in certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord,” the Reverend intoned, “we commit Brother Harmon Braddock to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust...”
Malcolm closed his eyes and blocked out the rest of the Burial Rite.
When it was all over, mourners cloistered around the family, once again, offering their condolences. Many, if not most, Malcolm recognized as his father’s political allies, supporters and even adversaries. Their slick hands and painted on smiles turned his stomach, but he knew it was all a part of the game-even for Houston local media outlets filming a comfortable distance away.
“Your father was a great man.” Senator Ray Cayman’s strong, wiry hand pressed into Malcolm’s. “I know the last two years-”
“Yes. Thank you, Senator,” Malcolm said in a near growl and freed his hand from the steel grip. He knew the direction the conversation was headed and he didn’t want to go there. Not now. Probably never.
If Cayman was offended, it didn’t show in his weathered mahogany features. Actually, Malcolm couldn’t remember a time when the distinguished septuagenarian showed his true emotions, but knew his cool brown eyes missed nothing.
With a slight nod, Cayman stepped aside and in his place a tall African American man with unusual Asian squinted eyes shook his hand. “Sorry for your loss,” he said with a curt nod and then moved on.
The line of endless faces continued and Malcolm returned to feeling like a marble statue than a man still among the living.
“You know your father was like a brother to me,” Bruce Hanlon stressed; the comment almost wrestled a smile from Malcolm. Nobody would have mistaken the affluent blue-eyed judge and the rich ebony-hued Harmon Braddock as brothers, but the two had always been as thick as thieves as far back as Malcolm could remember.
“He loved you,” Hanlon added, refusing to relinquish their handshake until Malcolm met his sharp gaze. “You know that, don’t you?”
Did he? Malcolm pressed his lips together and gave the Judge a firm nod. It was the best he could do.
A familiar melodious voice floated on the air. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do,”
He caught sight of his father’s assistant, Gloria Kingsley, talking to Ty and his wife Felicia. Malcolm’s chest tightened as he watched Gloria’s beautiful golden eyes turned toward Shawnie, her arms wrapping around his sister in shared comfort.
He hadn’t meant to stare while the women held each other; but when Gloria’s gaze caught his, he turned away as if embarrassed.
Thunder rolled and a flash of lightning streaked the evening sky, it was a welcomed excuse to usher his mother to their waiting limousine before the light drizzle turned into a torrential downpour and before he had to face Gloria on his own.
Hours later, the day finally came to an exhausting end with Malcolm peeling out of his suit before he finished entering his quaint inner-city apartment. He tossed the jacket over the back of the sofa, removed his shoes near the breakfast bar and unbuttoned his shirt by the time he retrieved a Sam Adams from the refrigerator. The pull from his beer was a balm to his tattered nerves, the second chug emptied the bottle and he had to grab another before returning to the spacious living room.
He collapsed on the Italian leather sofa and stared up at the strange flower patterns in the ceiling and tried his damnest to clear his mind and hang onto the protective numbness that surrounded his heart.
It wasn’t working.
Images of that heated fight he and his father had two years ago flashed before his eyes. There was so much he regretted; so many words he didn’t mean.
That’s a lie, his conscience corrected. He had meant them at the time:
“You to be used be a man of integrity-a man of his word. Now, you’re like every other slick politician in Washington. You’re one of them-a sell out!”
Malcolm closed his eyes, unsuccessfully blocking the image of his father’s angry face, slackened and drained of color, when he’d shouted those words and stormed out of his office. He’d nearly bowled over a shocked Gloria in his escape.
True, in his 32 years, he and his father had butt heads in the past but not like that. Never like that.
Growing up, Harmon Braddock was Malcolm’s hero. He was the top prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, putting away bad guys and throwing away the key. It was the closest thing to an Eliot Ness that he and his friends knew. Of course, Malcolm would embellish the stories a bit whenever a member of some crime cartel would be sent to jail, but it was always in good childhood fun.
When his father accepted the position as head legal council for Senator Ray Cayman, Malcolm’s interest marched in line with his father’s and he entered Morehouse for a double major in political science and history.
Years later, there was no words to describe how he felt when his father not only decided to run, but won his seat in the House of Representatives.
Sometime during the end of his stint at Morehouse College, Malcolm began championing some of his mother’s philanthropic causes: Feed the Hungry, UNICEF and the Coalition for the Homeless-the list went on and on. When it was time for Malcolm to ship out to Harvard Law, he held serious doubts whether politics was the right course for his life.
He brought the question up to his father and it was perhaps the first time his father showed a flicker of disappointment in him. Feeling as if he’d somehow betrayed his father, Malcolm entered and aced law school. But the hypocrisy of the political landscape sickened him even worse.
Once he’d passed the bar, he shunned all lofty positions offered to one whose father was a star congressman. Instead, he joined the Peace Corps and hopped the first plane smoking out of the United States. For four years, Malcolm toiled happily in Ghana, strengthening and teaching behavior changes to reduce water and sanitation related diseases.
Unfortunately, his extended absence had cost him his first serious relationship with Theresa Frost. His college girlfriend who’d once promised to wait for him. Instead when he returned, she had moved to New York and married some rich studio executive.
He was crushed.
His father thought once he’d returned to Houston that he’d worked out all philanthropic demons and he would now utilize his law degree and accept a law position with the D.A. office. Instead, Malcolm founded The Arc Foundation-which in four years he had transformed into one of the world largest grassroots organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The tug of war between what Malcolm wanted and what his father wanted for him had just begun.
And now it’s over. You’re free.
Malcolm sat up, ashamed of the renegade thought. However, the guilt refused to go away. Instead it clung to him like a living thing, choking him.
Hitting the shower, he scrubbed his skin beneath the steaming water. The pain distracted him. In a way, when he toweled off and slipped into his bathrobe, he did feel somewhat refreshed.
Returning to the living room, Malcolm’s gaze scanned the sparsely decorated apartment and the few family pictures. The one he needed and pulled out had been shoved in the bottom of a box by the DVD cabinet. It was a broken wood framed 5x8 picture of his father with the glass splintered like a spider’s web.
It was his father’s official press kit photo, one with him dressed in an immaculate royal blue suit, perched behind a handsome mahogany desk with an American flag on his lapel and full-sized flag propped in the corner.
Congressman Harmon Braddock a man for the people.
The rich people.
Malcolm lowered the picture back into the box and shifted his attention to a few DVD’s labeled: Dad’s campaign. He had no intentions of doing it, had no idea whether he was ready for it, but he opened the movie case and slipped the DVD into the player and clicked on the TV.
Images of the first Braddock’s Victory Campaign Party splashed onto the screen. Malcolm and the entire family stood proudly behind their father, waving through falling streamers, balloons and confetti to a jubilant crowd waving flags, signs and bumper stickers in the air.
The corners of Malcolm’s mouth curved, the memories of that wonderful night caused warmth to spread throughout his body. When the camera zoomed in on his father’s face, he pressed paused on the remote control and then studied the face that wasn’t so un-like his own: open, honest and intelligent were adjectives everyone used to describe Harmon Braddock.
At least in the beginning.
Malcolm rolled his eyes at the voice inside his head that was determined to play devil’s advocate and unfroze the frame; but seconds later, he paused the picture again. This time the image filling his 48-inch screen was of Gloria Kingsley.
He was surprised to see her-an unexpected beaming face in the crowd. He didn’t know that she was there that night. Gloria hadn’t started working for his father until toward the end of his second term in D.C.
She couldn’t have been more than-what-twenty-one? Of course, he had to guess, he had no idea how old the golden-eyed beauty was; it was certainly not something a man asked a woman either. If he had to guess, he’d say she was 29. One thing was clear, Gloria Kingsley was pretty when she was younger, but she was nothing less than a knockout now.
A pain in the ass knockout, but a knockout all the same.
The first time he’d met the woman was during a rare political fundraiser his father talked him into attending. Gloria entered the ballroom in an unforgettable black, back-less number that had every man with a pulse tripping over tongues.
Malcolm raced to her side, swiping an extra flute of champagne in his haste. When he offered her the champagne, she shot him down by telling him she didn’t drink, that his tie was crooked and then inquired when was the last time his suit had seen the inside of a cleaners.
From then on out, Malcolm didn’t like her.
Of course, she absolutely mooned over his father and could regurgitate every speech, point of view and interview the man had ever made ad nauseam.
Malcolm made it a point to stay away from her.
Still, he thought, she was a gorgeous woman.
The doorbell rang and Malcolm groaned his irritation and considered not answering the door, but by the time his un-invited guest rang the bell a forth time, he hopped up and stormed toward it. When he snatched it open, his vast vocabulary failed to suggest a single word for his unexpected, albeit beautiful guest: Gloria.
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