Read Everything but the marriage Online

Authors: Dallas Schulze

Everything but the marriage

This book made available by the Internet Archive.

Books by Dallas Schuize

Silhouette Intimate Moments

Moment to Moment #170 Donovan's Promise U241 The VownSlS The Baby Bargain U311 Everything but Marriage #414

DALLAS SCHULZE

loves books, old movies, her husband and her cat, not necessarily in that order. She's a sucker for a happy ending, whose writing has given her an outlet for her imagination and hopes that readers have half as much fun with her books as she does! Dallas has more hobbies than there is space to list them, but is currently working on a doll collection.

To my editor Lucia Macro, who's been a lot of fun to work with.

Prologue

We find the defendant guilty."

Reed Hall felt the unpact of the words strike the man standing beside him, but a quick glance showed absolutely no expression in Devlin Russell's face. He might have been listening to someone reading from a newspaper rather than hearing himself convicted of first-degree murder.

Reed listened to the sentencing, listened to the judge wipe out the next twenty years of a man's life. Devlin was twenty-two. After twenty years in prison, his youth would be gone, stolen not just by the years but by hard experience. If he survived.

Reed glanced at his client again. Something told him Devlin Russell would survive. There was no give in

him. Reed didn't think prison was going to changp that.

There was a buzz in the courtroom as the judge finished speaking. Reed turned to Devlin, speaking quickly before the guards came to remove the youngs man.

"This isn't the end of it, Russdl. We can appeal."

The eyes Devlin turned to him were steel gray and full of icy bitterness. "Save your breath, Hall. The evidence was overwhelming. You know it and I know it."

"It was circumstantial," Reed said stubbornly.

"And that's the only reason I'm not facing time on death row," Devlin said harshly. "Don't waste energy on me. Save it for the next poor bastard."

The guards stopped next to the table, and for an instant, Reed thought he saw a wild despair in Devlin's eyes. But it was gone so quickly he might have imagined it. Without another word, Devlin turned, holding out his hands for handcuffs to be snapped ov^ his wrists.

Reed's gaze followed him as he was led from the courtroom. Devlin didn't look back. The attorney snapped his briefcase closed as the door shut behind his cUent. No one had ever told him that being a public defender was an easy task. He didn't expect it to be easy. In the five years te'd spent at the job, he thought he'd developed a certain hardness, a shdl that was practically impenetrable.

But something about Devlin Russell had gotten through that shdl. It wasn't anything Reed could put

his finger on. There was certainly nothing soft or vulnerable about the young man. He hadn't made any extravagant claims to innocence.

He'd admitted to sleeping with his onployer's young wife. He'd made no apologies for that. But he hadn't killed her. His eyes hadn't pleaded with Reed to beUeve him. In fact, he didn't really seem to give a damn what anybody thought, which hadn't helped him with the jury. Reed acknowledged with a sigh.

He hfted his briefcase, but his eyes lingered on the door through which they'd taken Devlin. He should drop this one. Devlin was right. The evidence against him had be^i overwhehning. He should just chalk this up as one of those things. You couldn't win them all. You had to learn to live with the failures.

The problem was, he believed Devlin Russell was innocent. How did you live with seeing an innocent man sent to prison?

Eight years later. ..

"You can tell his lawyers to take the money and bum it. I don't want it." Devlin Russell paced from one side of Reed's small office to the other.

"Think about it, Devlin," Reed suggested quietly. "I know how you feel but—"

"You don*t know how I feel," Devlin interrupted harshly. "I just sp^it eight years in that hellhole. Eight years of my life gone forever. Eight years doing time for a crime I didn't commit.

"And now that old bastard thinks he can make up for it by leaving me his money. Well, nothing can make up for what he did to me."

"I didn't say it could." Reed leaned back in his desk chair, watching Devlin through narrowed eyes.

It was the first time he'd seen Devlin since he'd been released from prison less than a week before. Over the past eight years, Reed had made it a point to visit the other man. But seeing him outside the thick gray walls, he was struck by how much the years inside had changed Devlin.

Eight years ago, there'd still been traces of youth about him—a certain lankiness that hadn't yet disappeared, maybe a trace of softness around the mouth. But there was none of that now. The man in front of him was all hard muscle and barely contained anger.

"Think about it before you turn the money down," Reed said again.

"I don't want Sampson's money," Devlin said flatly. "Dead or alive, he can't buy my forgiveness. I hope he rots in hell."

"I don't think he was trying to buy your forgiveness. From what his lawyers told me, he was looking for forgiveness from a higher source." Reed's mouth twisted cynically.

"Eight years of my life gone. You can't wipe the slate clean that easily."

"Maybe not. Thankfully, that's not our decision." Reed tapped the small stack of papers in front of him. "When Harold Sampson made a deathbed confession to murdering his wife, he made you a free man.

His will makes you a very rich one. In the letter he dictated, he said that he couldn't die with your conviction on his conscience.*'

"He didn't have much trouble living with it for eight years," Devlin said cynically.

''I'll admit that his sudden religious streak seems conveniently timed for him to meet his maker with a clear conscience, but that's not the point. The point is that you are now, not only exonerated of the crime, but independently wealthy."

"I already told you I don't want his money."

"And I'll tell you again that I think you're cutting off your nose to spite Sampson's face. The money can't give you back the last eight years, but it can make the rest of your life a hell of a lot easier. If you don't take it, what are you going to do?

"A prison record, even on an unjust conviction, isn't likely to make most employers all that eager to hire you. What kind of a job do you think you'll get? Construction? Heavy labor? I'd think you'd have had enough of that."

Devlin's shoulders shifted uneasily under the cheap nylon jacket he was wearing. Despite himself, he was starting to listen to Reed's arguments. What the hell was he going to do with the rest of his life?

"You've got a sister somewhere up north, don't you?"

"Kelly," Devlin murmured. A cloudy image of a gap-toothed, eight-year-old came to mind. An entire decade had passed since he'd seen her. She'd be eighteen or nineteen now. He'd received letters from her

over the years, though he stopped writing after he was arrested for Laura Sampson's murder.

"Well, think what the money could do for her," Reed suggested. '*You could become something of a philanthropist if you'd like."

"I don't think I'm the philanthropist type."

"So spend it all on yourself. Don't look on this as money to buy your forgiveness, Devlin. Look on it as the least Sampson owed you. He stole eight years of your life. The money can't give that back to you, I know. But think about what it can do for you."

"What happens if I refuse it?"

"The courts will have to decide what to do with it. It will probably take years because there are no obvious heirs. The expenses will mount while the will lies frozen in probate, which will make a lot of lawyers very happy. Or you can save the courts a lot of time and accept it."

"Bloody hell." Devlin shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and turned to stare out the window. He'd been released less than two weeks ago, and he still hadn't quite gotten used to his freedom. The idea that he could not only look at the thick carpet of lawn across the street but actually go and walk on it if he chose was still hard to absorb.

If he didn't take the money, he was going to have to find work immediately, and he wasn't going to be able to be too choosy about what he took, either. One thing he knew, he couldn't ever work indoors again. He'd had enough of walls and closed doors to last him a hfetime.

If he took the money, he wouldn't have to worry about finding work. He could go see Kelly, go home. Not that there was much left for him in Indiana anymore. But Kelly was still there.

She was all the family he had, unless you counted his crazy old man, and Devlin hadn't counted him in a long time. With this money, he would be able to buy Kelly anything she wanted, take her anywhere she wished to go. He had a chance to make up for all the years he hadn't been there for her.

Listen to him. He was as bad as Sampson, thinking money could make up for lost time. But Reed was right. It could make life a lot easier from here on out. And he could always give the damn stuff away later.

"I'll take it," he said without turning from the window.

Reed stifled a grin and reached for the papers on his desk. The mills of the gods not only ground slow and fine, they ground out some pretty peculiar stuff. But it seemed as if they did get around to providing justice eventually.

Chapter 1

1 he building was little more than a shell—four walls and a roof. The exterior was still plywood, the interior contained only enough walls to provide structural support, and those walls were bare studs and exposed wiring.

Etevlin Russell stood in the middle of the room that would eventually be the living room. Hands on his hips, he surveyed his new home, feeling satisfaction well up inside him. It was exactly the way he'd envisioned it.

He hadn't been sure he could explain what he wanted well enough for anyone to draw up usable plans. But Kelly's husband, Dan Remington, had suggested Michael Sinclair, and Michael had given him just what he'd asked for. Plenty of open space and lots

of windows. The only doors would be on the bathroom and the closets. Other than that, one room flowed easily into the next.

Dan's company, Remington Construction, had put up the shell, but Devlin planned to do most of the remaining work himself. It paid to have relatives in the business.

The idea of having family was still new. When he'd come back to Remembrance last summer, he'd practically walked in on the middle of his sister's wedding. He'd found himself not only a brother-in-law, but about to become an uncle.

Thinking about his nephew, Clay Remington, aged nine months brought a rare smile to Devlin's lean features. He'd never thought of himself as particularly fond of children, but that was before he'd discovered his nephew's toothless smile.

Thunder cracked in the distance, breaking into his thoughts. A cool wind danced through the open doorway, smelling of rain. Devlin turned to face it, inhaling the damp scent as if it were a fine perfume. After eight years in prison, it was far more precious than any perfume.

If the scent could be bottled, it would sell for a fortune on the inside. Men who'd stab each other over a tube of toothpaste would have committed murder in the blink of an eye for just one breath of the air he was breathing now. Air that didn't smell of concrete and unwashed bodies, fear and despair.

He shook his head, forcing the memories back, locking them in a deep corner of his mind. That was

behind him now. He was never going to be closed in again, never going to be shut away from the smell of rain and growing things.

Lightning flashed, an eye-searing bolt of white that lightened the twilight sky. Thunder crashed hard on its heels, bringing with it the near-silent rush of rain.

Without a moment's hesitation, Devlin walked outside, pulling the door shut behind him. Lightning split the sky again, so close he could almost smell the ozone. He thought briefly that it might be wiser to stay inside. But he'd spent too many years on the inside, too many years missing the clean feel of falling rain. Even after almost a year, being able to walk in the rain felt Uke something approaching a miracle.

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, circling around the house toward the overgrown field that only the most optimistic individual would have called a yard.

The rain fell in soft, heavy drops, soaking him to the skin in a matter of minutes. The earth drank in the moisture, sending up a dark, musty scent.

A river ran along the bottom of the field, one of the features that had persuaded Devlin to buy the property. The real estate agent had been careful to point out that the water was too deep and too swift at this particular spot to offer decent fishing. But Devlin wasn't interested in the fishing. He just liked the idea of having a stretch of free-flowing water practically at his back door.

He'd almost reached the riverbank when he realized he wasn't the only one foolish enough to come out

in a rainstorm. Across the river from Devlin's property was another field and beyond that, a little-used country road. He guessed the other storm worshiper had left a car on the road and walked across the field, a long, soggy hike through knee-high grass and weeds.

The driving rain and the approaching darkness made it difficult to distinguish much more than a vague shape on the opposite bank. A woman, judging from the white dress she was wearing. She was coatless and bareheaded.

Standing too close to the edge of the bank, he thought critically, particularly with the ground soaking up the rain like it was. The ground near the edge of the river was less than stable, as evidenced by the muddy scars of innumerable small cave-ins.

Devlin started to call across to her, warn her that she was too close to the edge. But he shut his mouth without speaking. There was something in her posture that made it seem as if it would be an intolerable intrusion to speak to her.

She stood staring down at the water, her arms hanging loose at her sides, her shoulders hunched slightly forward as if bent under some burden. Something in the posture spoke to him through the careful walls he'd built around himself. Even through the driving rain, he recognized a soul deep in despair. He'd been there often enough himself to be able to see it in someone else.

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