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Prodigal Son(5)
Danielle Steel

There had been unpleasant words exchanged between the brothers after their father died, and again when their mother died the following year, when Peter accused his brother of manipulating them and turning them against him all his life. He had done it right to the end.

Peter had never gone to see the cottage after he inherited it, and paid a small fee to have it maintained by a local realtor. It was where he had spent his boyhood summers. He had never had the heart to sell it, and it was worth very little. Its value was mostly sentimental. His only pleasant memories of his childhood had happened there. But in the years since, Peter had nothing more to say to his brother. By now, the two men were enemies and strangers. His brother’s constant lies and manipulations when they were children, always to implicate Peter as the one committing the crimes, however menial, had ultimately destroyed Peter’s desire to remain involved with his family, and had destroyed his parents’ faith in him. He had been to see his mother on her deathbed only once before she died. He felt guilty about it now, feeling he should have done more to repair the damage. But Michael had been entrenched, too determined to cut Peter out of everything, and most particularly out of their parents’ hearts, not just their wills, and he had succeeded. Peter had never been able to win them back after the failures in his youth. His mother had been upset by him, and his father had never tried to understand him. Sharing a career in medicine with Michael, they had so much in common, and Peter had never succeeded in forming a bond with his father. All Peter had ever been was a disappointment to him, and a problem.

Peter hadn’t been home, nor had contact with his brother, in fifteen years, and he didn’t miss it. It was a part of his life, and a painful history, he never wanted to revisit. And surely not now that he was suddenly a failure all over again. Now once again, it was Michael with the steady small-town life who was a success, the beloved country doctor whom everyone adored. Anytime Peter ran into someone he grew up with who had moved to New York in recent years, he heard all about it. Saint Michael, who had been the nemesis of Peter’s youth, since the day they were born. He had been the permanent wedge between their parents and Peter. It was embarrassing to admit now, but for years Peter had hated him, and he had no desire to ever see him again.

Michael had seen to it that Peter was viewed as the “bad guy” by everyone who knew them, and even by their parents. Michael had put a lot of energy into it, and God only knew what he would say about him now, if he heard about Whitman Broadbank folding and Peter’s life dissolving into nothing—probably that he deserved it. Michael had compassion and empathy for everyone in the world, except his twin brother. Michael had been consumed by jealousy of Peter. When they were young, their father had called them Cain and Abel, and said he wouldn’t have been surprised if they killed each other. They didn’t. Peter just took off, and made his way in an entirely different world. A world that had just collapsed around everyone’s ears, like a hovel in an underdeveloped country during an earthquake.

Peter parked the car in front of their building on Fifth Avenue, opened the trunk, and showed the doorman the boxes. He said he would send them upstairs with a porter, as Peter slipped a twenty-dollar bill into his hand and strode inside. The doorman had already heard rumors that the apartment was going to be put on the market shortly—the housekeeping couple who had left had told him. He was sorry for the McDowells. There were people like them whose lives would be changing all over the city, and in the suburbs. All the hotshots in the financial world had been instantly ruined. Some had made better investments than others, or were with firms that were holding on or had been rescued. But for the partners and employees of Lehman Brothers, Whitman Broadbank, and the firms, banks, and institutions that had closed, life as they had known it was over.

Peter let himself into the apartment and went to look for Alana. It was still warm outside, and she was lying on a deck chair on the terrace, talking on her cell phone. She ended the call the minute she saw him. She hated to look into his eyes now, there was so much pain there, and the acrid smell of defeat seemed to hang all around them. She dreaded seeing him now, and was terrified of what new horrifying announcement he would make. She looked at him with terror as he gently put a hand on her head. They had been married for fifteen years. He had met her right after his parents’ deaths, and married her a few months later, dazzled by her beauty. And he had already been a huge success at thirty-one when they married.

Alana had been twenty-three years old, fresh out of USC, and the most beautiful girl he had ever seen when he met her. She was the only child of Gary Tallon, one of the biggest music producers in Hollywood. Her father’s career had started with the Beatles, and he had been vocal and unhappy when Alana moved to New York and married Peter. He had spent years trying to convince his son-in-law to move to L.A. and come to work for him. But it was a world and city that didn’t appeal to Peter. The thrill of the financial world was a drug to him, and he was addicted to it. Peter knew nothing about the music business. The tinsel of Hollywood and her father’s scene was entirely foreign to him, although he was well aware that Alana always missed it. She flew out to see her father regularly in L.A. and took the boys with her. Her mother had died when she was fifteen, and she was unusually close to her father because of it. Gary liked Peter, but Peter was an unfamiliar breed of animal to him, and over the years, Gary had always acted slightly suspicious of him.

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