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Blood Brothers (Chapter Fifteen)

Chapter Fifteen

IT WAS HARD FOR CAL TO SEE BILL TURNER AND say nothing about Gage being in town. But Cal knew his friend. When and if Gage wanted his father to know, Gage would tell him. So Cal did his best to avoid Bill by closing himself in his office.

He dealt with orders, bills, reservations, contacted their arcade guy to discuss changing out one of their pinball machines for something jazzier.

Checking the time, he judged if Gage wasn't awake by now, he should be. And so picked up the phone.

Not awake, Cal decided, hearing the irritation in Gage's voice, hasn't had coffee. Ignoring all that, Cal launched into an explanation of what happened that morning, relayed the dinner plans, and hung up.

Now, rolling his eyes, Cal called Fox to run over the same information, and to tell Fox that Layla needed a job and he should hire her to replace Mrs. Hawbaker.

Fox said, "Huh?"

Cal said, "Gotta go," and hung up.

There, duty done, he considered. Satisfied, he turned to his computer and brought up the information on the automatic scoring systems he wanted to talk his father into installing.

It was past time for the center to do the upgrade. Maybe it was foolish to think about that kind of investment if everything was going to hell in a few months. But, if everything was going to hell in a few months, the investment wouldn't hurt a thing.

His father would say some of the old-timers would object, but Cal didn't think so. If they wanted to keep score by hand, the center would provide the paper score sheets and markers. But he thought if someone showed them how it worked, gave them a few free games to get used to the new system, they'd jump on.

They could get them used and reconditioned, which was part of the argument he was prepared to make. They had Bill onboard, and he could fix damn near anything.

It was one thing to be a little kitschy and traditional, another to be old-fashioned.

No, no, that wasn't the tack to take with his father. His father liked old-fashioned. Better to use figures. Bowling accounted for more than half, closer to sixty percent, of their revenue, so-

He broke off at the knock on his door and inwardly winced, thinking it was Bill Turner.

But it was Cal's mother who popped her head in. "Too busy for me?"

"Never. Here to bowl a few games before the morning league?"

"Absolutely not." Frannie loved her husband, but she liked to say she hadn't taken a vow to love, honor, and bowl. She came in to sit down, then angled her head so she could see his computer screen. Her lips twitched. "Good luck with that."

"Don't say anything to Dad, okay?"

"My lips are sealed."

"Who are you having lunch with?"

"How do you know I'm having lunch with anyone?"

He gestured to her pretty fitted jacket, trim pants, heeled boots. "Too fancy for shopping."

"Aren't you smart? I do have a few errands, then I'm meeting a friend for lunch. Joanne Barry."

Fox's mother, Cal thought, and just nodded.

"We have lunch now and then, but she called me yesterday, specifically to see if I could meet her today. She's worried. So I'm here to ask you if there's anything I should know, anything you want to tell me before I see her."

"Things are as under control as I can make them, Mom. I don't have the answers yet. But I have more questions, and I think that's progress. In fact, I have one you could ask Fox's mom for me."

"All right."

"You could ask if there's a way she could find out if any of her ancestors were Hawkins."

"You think we might be related somehow? Would it help if we are?"

"It would be good to know the answer."

"Then I'll ask the question. Now answer one for me. Are you all right? Just a yes or no is good enough."

"Yes."

"Okay then." She rose. "I have half a dozen things on my list before I meet Jo." She started for the door, said, "Damn it" very quietly under her breath, and turned back. "I wasn't going to ask, but I have no willpower over something like this. Are you and Quinn Black serious?"

"About what?"

"Caleb James Hawkins, don't be dense."

He would've laughed, but that tone brought on the Pavlovian response of hunched shoulders. "I don't exactly know the answer. And I'm not sure it's smart to get serious, in that way, with so much going on. With so much at stake."

"What better time?" Frannie replied. "My levelheaded Cal." She put her hand on the knob, smiled at him. "Oh, and those fancy scoring systems? Try reminding your father how much his father resisted going to projection-screen scoreboards thirty-five years ago, give or take."

"I'll keep that in mind."

Alone, Cal printed out the information on the automatic systems, new and reconditioned, then shut down long enough to go downstairs and check in with the front desk, the grill, the play area during the morning leagues games.

The scents from the grill reminded him he'd missed breakfast, so he snagged a hot pretzel and a Coke before he headed back up to his office.

So armed, he decided since everything was running smoothly, he could afford to take a late-morning break. He wanted to dig a little deeper into Ann Hawkins.

She'd appeared to him twice in three days. Both times, Cal mused, had been a kind of warning. He'd seen her before, but only in dreams. He'd wanted her in dreams, Cal admitted-or Giles Dent had, working through him.

These incidents had been different, and his feelings different.

Still, that wasn't the purpose, that wasn't the point, he reminded himself as he gnawed off a bite of pretzel.

He was trusting Quinn's instincts about the journals. Somewhere, at some time, there had been more. Maybe they were in the old library. He certainly intended to get in there and search the place inch by inch. If, God, they'd somehow gotten transferred into the new space and mis-shelved or put in storage, the search could be a nightmare.

So he wanted to know more about Ann, to help lead him to the answers.

Where had she been for nearly two years? All the information, all the stories he'd heard or read indicated she'd vanished the night of the fire in the clearing and hadn't returned to the Hollow until her sons were almost two.

"Where did you go, Ann?"

Where would a woman, pregnant with triplets, go during the last weeks before their births? Traveling had to have been extremely difficult. Even for a woman without the pregnancy to weigh her down.

There had been other settlements, but nothing as far as he remembered for a woman in her condition to have walked or even ridden to. So logically, she'd had somewhere to go close by, and someone had taken her in.

Who was most likely to take a young, unmarried woman in? A relative would be his first guess.

Maybe a friend, maybe some kindly old widow, but odds were on family.

"That's where you went first, when there was trouble, wasn't it?"

While it wasn't easy to find specifics on Ann Hawkins, there was plenty of it on her father-the founder of the Hollow.

He'd read it, of course. He'd studied it, but he'd never read or studied it from this angle. Now, he brought up all the information he'd previously downloaded on his office computer relating to James Hawkins.

He took side trips, made notes on any mention of relatives, in-laws. The pickings were slim, but at least there was something to pick from. Cal was rolling with it when someone knocked on his door. He surfaced as Quinn poked her head in just as his mother had that morning.

"Working. I bet you hate to be interrupted. But…"

"It's okay." He glanced at the clock, saw with a twinge of guilt his break had lasted more than an hour. "I've been at it longer than I meant to."

"It's dog-eat-dog in the bowling business." She said it with a smile as she came in. "I just wanted you to know we were here. We took Cyb on a quick tour of the town. Do you know there's no place to buy shoes in Hawkins Hollow? Cyb's saddened by that, as she's always on the hunt. Now she's making noises about bowling. She has a vicious competitive streak. So I escaped up here before she drags me into that. The hope was to grab a quick bite at your grill-maybe you could join us-before Cyb…"

She trailed off. Not only hadn't he said a word, but he was staring at her. Just staring. "What?" She brushed a hand over her nose, then up over her hair. "Is it my hair?"

"That's part of it. Probably part of it."

He got up, came around the desk. He kept his eyes on her face as he moved past her. As he shut and locked the door.

"Oh. Oh. Really? Seriously? Here? Now?"

"Really, seriously. Here and now." She looked flustered, and that was a rare little treat. She looked, every inch of her, amazing. He couldn't say why he'd gone from pleased to see her to aroused in the snap of a finger, and he didn't much care. What he knew, without question, was he wanted to touch her, to draw in her scent, to feel her body go tight, go loose. Just go.

"You're not nearly as predictable as you should be." Watching him now, she pulled off her sweater, unbuttoned the shirt beneath it.

"I should be predictable?" Without bothering with buttons, he pulled his shirt over his head.

"Hometown boy from a nice, stable family, who runs a third-generation family business. You should be predictable, Caleb," she said as she unbuttoned her jeans. "I like that you're not. I don't mean just the sex, though major points there."

She bent down to pull off her boots, tossing her hair out of her eyes so she could look up at him. "You should be married," she decided, "or on your way to it with your college sweetheart. Thinking about 401(k)s."

"I think about 401(k)s. Just not right now. Right now, Quinn, all I can think about is you."

That gave her heart a bounce, even before he reached out, ran his hands down her bare arms. Even before he drew her to him and seduced her mouth with his.

She may have laughed when they lowered to the floor, but her pulse was pounding. There was a different tone from when they were in bed. More urgency, a sense of recklessness as they tangled together in a giddy heap on the office floor. He tugged her bra down so he could use his lips, his teeth, his tongue on her breasts until her hips began to pump. She closed her hand around him, found him hard, made him groan.

He couldn't wait, not this time. He couldn't savor; needed to take. He rolled, dragging her over so she could straddle him. Even as he gripped her hips, she was rising. She was taking him in. When she leaned forward for a greedy kiss, her hair fell to curtain their faces. Surrounded by her, he thought. Her body, her scent, her energy. He stroked the line of her back, the curve of her hips as she rocked and rocked and rocked him through pleasure toward desperation.

Even when she arched back, even with his vision blurred, the shape of her, the tones of her enthralled him.

She let herself go, simply steeped herself in sensation. Hammering pulses and speed, slick bodies and dazzling friction. She felt him come, that sudden, sharp jerk of his hips, and was thrilled. She had driven him to lose control first, she had taken him over. And now she used that power, that thrill, to drive herself over that same edgy peak.

She slid down from it, and onto him so they could lie there, heated, a little stunned, until they got their breath back. And she began to laugh.

"God, we're like a couple of teenagers. Or rabbits."

"Teenage rabbits."

Amused, she levered up. "Do you often multitask in your office like this?"

"Ah…"

She gave him a little poke as she tugged her bra back in place. "See, unpredictable."

He held out her shirt. "It's the first time I've multitasked in this way during working hours."

Her lips curved as she buttoned her shirt. "That's nice."

"And I haven't felt like a teenage rabbit since I was."

She leaned over to give him a quick peck on the lips. "Even nicer." Still on the floor, she scooted into her pants as he did the same. "I should tell you something." She reached for her boots, pulled one on. "I think…No, saying 'I think' is a cop-out, it's the coward's way."

She took a deep breath, yanked on the other boot, then looked him dead in the eye. "I'm in love with you."

The shock came first-fast, arrow-point shock straight to the gut. Then the concern wrapped in a slippery fist of fear. "Quinn-"

"Don't waste your breath with the 'we've only known each other a couple of weeks' gambit. And I really don't want to hear the 'I'm flattered, but,' either. I didn't tell you so you could say anything. I told you because you should know. So first, it doesn't matter how long we've known each other. I've known me a long time, and I know me very well. I know what I feel when I feel it. Second, you should be flattered, goes without saying. And there's no need to freak out. You're not obligated or expected to feel what I feel."

"Quinn, we're-all of us-are under a lot of pressure. We don't even know if we'll make it through to August. We can't-"

"Exactly so. Nobody ever knows that, but we have more reason to worry about it. So, Cal." She framed his face with her hands. "The moment's important. The right-this-minute matters a whole hell of a lot. I doubt I'd have told you otherwise, though I can be impulsive. But I think, under other circumstances, I'd have waited for you to catch up. I hope you do, but in the meantime, things are just fine the way they are."

"You have to know I-"

"Don't, absolutely don't tell me you care about me." The first hint of anger stung her voice. "Your instinct is to say all the cliches people babble out in cases like this. They'll only piss me off."

"Okay, all right, let me just ask this, without you getting pissed off. Have you considered what you're feeling might be something like what happened in the clearing? That it's, say, a reflection of what Ann felt for Dent?"

"Yes, and it's not." She pushed to her feet, drew on her sweater. "Good question though. Good questions don't piss me off. What she felt, and I felt through that, was intense and consuming. I'm not going to say some of what I feel for you isn't like that. But it was also painful, and wrenching. Under the joy was grief. That's not this, Cal. This isn't painful. I don't feel sad. So…do you have time to come down and grab some lunch before Cyb and Layla and I head out?"

"Ah…sure."

"Great. Meet you down there. I'm going to pop in the bathroom and fix myself up a little."

"Quinn." He hesitated as she opened the door, turned back. "I've never felt like this about anyone before."

"Now that is a very acceptable thing to say."

She smiled as she strolled away. If he'd said it, he meant it, because that was the way he was. Poor guy, she thought. Didn't even know he was caught.

A THICK GROVE OF TREES SHIELDED THE OLD cemetery on the north side. It fanned out over bumpy ground, with hills rolling west, at the end of a dirt road barely wide enough for two cars to pass. A historical marker faded by weather stated the First Church of the Godly had once stood on the site, but had been destroyed when it had been struck by lightning and razed by fire on July 7, 1652.

Quinn had read that fact in her research, but it was different to stand here now, in the wind, in the chill, and imagine it. She'd read, too, as the plaque stated, that a small chapel had stood as a replacement until it was damaged during the Civil War, and gone to ruin.

Now, there were only the markers here, the stones, the winter-hardy weeds. Beyond a low stone wall were the graves of the newer dead. Here and there she saw bright blots of color from flowers that stood out like grief against the dull grays and winter browns.

"We should've brought flowers," Layla said quietly as she looked down at the simple and small stone that read only:

ANN HAWKINS

"She doesn't need them," Cybil told her. "Stones and flowers, they're for the living. The dead have other things to do."

"Cheery thought."

Cybil only shrugged at Quinn. "I think so, actually. No point in being dead and bored. It's interesting, don't you think, that there are no dates. Birth or death. No sentiment. She had three sons, but they didn't have anything but her name carved in her gravestone. Even though they're buried here, too, with their wives, and I imagine at least some of their children. Wherever they went in life, they came home to be buried with Ann."

"Maybe they knew, or believed, she'd be back. Maybe she told them death isn't the end." Quinn frowned at the stone. "Maybe they just wanted to keep it simple, but I wonder, now that you mention it, if it was deliberate. No beginning, no end. At least not until…"

"This July," Layla finished. "Another cheery thought."

"Well, while we're all getting cheered up, I'm going to get some pictures." Quinn pulled out her camera. "Maybe you two could write down some of the names here. We may want to check on them, see if any have any direct bearing on-"

She tripped while backing up to get a shot, fell hard on her ass. "Ouch, goddamn it! Shit. Right on the bruise I got this morning. Perfect."

Layla rushed over to help her up. Cybil did the same, even as she struggled with laughter.

"Just shut up," Quinn grumbled. "The ground's all bumpy here, and you can hardly see some of these stones popping out." She rubbed her hip, scowled down at the stone that had tripped her up. "Ha. That's funny. Joseph Black, died eighteen forty-three." The color annoyance brought to her face faded. "Same last name as mine. Common name Black, really. Until you consider it's here, and that I just happened to trip over his grave."

"Odds are he's one of yours," Cybil agreed.

"And one of Ann's?"

Quinn shook her head at Layla's suggestion. "I don't know. Cal's researched the Hawkins's family tree, and I've done a quick overview. I know some of the older records are lost, or just buried deeper than we've dug, but I don't see how we'd both have missed branches with my surname. So. I think we'd better see what we can find out about Joe."

HER FATHER WAS NO HELP, AND THE CALL HOME kept her on the phone for forty minutes, catching up on family gossip. She tried her grandmother next, who had a vague recollection about her mother-in-law mentioning an uncle, possibly a great-uncle, maybe a cousin, who'd been born in the hills of Maryland. Or it might've been Virginia. His claim to fame, family-wise, had been running off with a saloon singer, deserting his wife and four children and taking the family savings held inside a cookie tin with him.

"Nice guy, Joe," Quinn decided. "Should you be my Joe."

She decided, since it would get her out of any type of food preparation, she had enough time to make a trip to Town Hall, and start digging on Joseph Black. If he'd died here, maybe he'd been born here.

W HEN QUINN GOT HOME SHE WAS GLAD TO FIND the house full of people, sound, the scents of food. Cybil, being Cybil, had music on, candles lit, and wine poured. She had everyone piled in the kitchen, whetting appetites with marinated olives. Quinn popped one, took Cal's wine and washed it down.

"Are my eyes bleeding?" she asked.

"Not so far."

"I've been searching records for nearly three hours. I think I bruised my brain."

"Joseph Black." Fox got her a glass of wine for her own. "We've been filled in."

"Good, saves me. I could only trace him back to his grandfather-Quinton Black, born sixteen seventy-six. Nothing on record before that, not here anyway. And nothing after Joe, either. I went on side trips, looking for siblings or other relatives. He had three sisters, but I've got nothing on them but birth records. He had aunts, uncles, and so on, and not much more there. It appears the Blacks weren't a big presence in Hawkins Hollow."

"Name would've rung for me," Cal told her.

"Yeah. Still, I got my grandmother's curiosity up, and she's now on a hunt to track down the old family Bible. She called me on my cell. She thinks it went to her brother-in-law when his parents died. Maybe. Anyway, it's a line."

She focused on the man leaning back against the counter toying with a glass of wine. "Sorry? Gage, right?"

"That's right. Roadside service a specialty."

Quinn grinned as Cybil rolled her eyes and took a loaf of herbed bread out of the oven.

"So I hear, and that looks like dinner's ready. I'm starved. Nothing like searching through the births and deaths of Blacks, Robbits, Clarks to stir up the appetite."

"Clark." Layla lowered the plate she'd taken out to offer Cybil for the bread. "There were Clarks in the records?"

"Yeah, an Alma and a Richard Clark in there, as I remember. Need to check my notes. Why?"

"My grandmother's maiden name was Clark." Layla managed a wan smile. "That's probably not a coincidence either."

"Is she still living?" Quinn asked immediately. "Can you get in touch and-"

"We're going to eat while it's hot," Cybil interrupted. "Time enough to give family trees a good shake later. But when I cook-" She pushed the plate of hot bread into Gage's hand. "We eat."

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