Understanding hit him.
“What happened between us last night scared the hell out of you, didn’t it?” he asked softly.
Her nails made little indentations in the screen.
“Maybe we should both be a little scared, Gabe.”
“If it’s Mitchell you’re worrying about, forget it. I’m pretty sure he bought that story you gave him about walking over here for coffee this morning. He doesn’t know you spent the night.”
She looked down the long drive to the place where Mitchell’s SUV had disappeared.
“He knows,” she said.
“Where’s that damn cell phone?” Mitchell asked.
Bryce took one hand off the wheel long enough to reach into the small space between the seats. He picked up the phone and handed it to Mitchell without comment.
Mitchell found his reading glasses, fished a notebook out of his pocket, flipped it open and located the number he wanted. He carefully punched the digits on the phone, peering carefully at the display to make sure he’d struck the right ones. It wasn’t easy. The arthritis made some things harder than they had been in the old days.
“Why do they make these buttons so damn tiny?” he asked.
“People like small phones,” Bryce said. “Small phones require small buttons.”
“That was what they call one of them rhetorical questions.” Mitchell listened to the phone ring. “You weren’t supposed to actually answer it.”
“You ask me a question, you get an answer,” Bryce said.
“You’d think I’d know that by now.”
“Yes, sir, you would think that.”
The phone rang a third time.
“Shoot and damn,” Mitchell said. “He’d better be there. I don’t have time—”
The fourth ring was cut short.
“Hello?” Sullivan Harte said.
Mitchell grunted with satisfaction at the sound of the cool, graveled voice. He and Sullivan hadn’t had much to do with each other in the years since the destruction of Harte-Madison and the infamous brawl in front of Fulton’s Supermarket. They hadn’t even had a civil conversation until Hannah and Rafe’s wedding a few months ago. But some things you didn’t forget, he reflected. The voice of the man who had fought alongside you in the green hell of jungle warfare was one of those things.
“This is Mitch.”
“What’s wrong?” Sullivan asked immediately.
“Your granddaughter is shacking up with my grandson.”
There was a short silence.
“Got news for you, Mitch.” Sullivan chuckled. “It’s okay now that they’re married.”
“I’m not talking about Hannah and Rafe.”
There was another brief pause.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sullivan no longer sounded amused.
“Lillian and Gabe.”
“Sonofabitch,” Sullivan said very softly.
“You referring to me or my grandson?”
“You’ve made your opinion real clear,” Mitchell said. “Point is, what are you gonna do about it?”
“Gabe is your grandson.”
“And Lillian is your granddaughter. I fixed things last time. It’s your turn.”
“You fixed things? What the hell do you mean, you—”
Mitchell punched the button to end the call, cutting Sullivan off in midsentence.
He looked at Bryce and grinned.
“This,” he said, “is gonna be downright entertaining.”
Claire Jensen dropped an overstuffed leather briefcase onto the vinyl seat and slid into the booth across from Lillian. She was flushed and a little breathless.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Marilyn wanted to go over some talking points for an interview she’s doing tomorrow and we had to make some last-minute changes in the schedule for the Leaders of Tomorrow open-house event. Hey, you’re looking great, Lil.”
“Thanks. So are you. It’s good to see you again. Been a while.”
Claire laughed and Lillian felt the years fall away. Claire had always been fun. She was a bright, high-energy woman who bubbled with personality and plans.
“You’re right,” Lillian said. “Much too long. Where did the time go?”
“Life happens. Not like we both haven’t been busy for the past few years.”
They had met when Claire had been a student at Chamberlain College. Lillian had been attending a college in Portland but she had always spent her vacation breaks with her family in Eclipse Bay. She and Claire had both gotten jobs as waitresses at a pier restaurant one summer. Claire had needed the money.
Strictly speaking, Lillian had not needed the income but she had needed the job. The Harte family believed very strongly in the work ethic. All Harte offspring were expected to work during summer vacations.
Initially she and Claire had had little in common, but the long hours spent dealing with stingy tippers and rude tourists had forged a bond between them. They had hung out together after work and talked a lot about the important things: guys and the futures they were planning for themselves.
Claire was the first person and, for a long time, the only person to whom she had confided her dream of becoming an artist. In what some would call typical Harte fashion, she had been very focused on her goal but, acutely aware of her family’s opinion on the subject of art as a career, she hadn’t discussed it much.
It had been exciting to share her secret with someone who understood an impractical dream.
Claire had had some very impractical dreams of her own in those days. She had wanted to go into politics.
“This place certainly hasn’t changed much, has it?” Claire commented. “Snow’s Café looks just like it did when we used to come here back when we were in college.”
The décor of Snow’s Café had always reflected Arizona Snow’s unique view of the world, Lillian thought. The walls were hung with a mix of faded rock band posters and enlarged satellite photos of the terrain around Area 51 and Roswell, New Mexico. The clientele consisted mostly of students from nearby Chamberlain College.
“What about the menu?” Claire asked. “Is it still the same?”
“Let’s see.” Lillian plucked the plastic laminated menu out from its position between the napkin holder and the little carousel that held the condiments. She surveyed the offerings. “Still heavy on veggie burgers, french fries, and coffee drinks.”