Jack glanced around the room. Grandfather’s large living room was packed. Some people sat on pillows on the floor while others leaned against the log timber walls. Most of them were organized in small groups, eyeing one another, trying to size up people. He did not need Grandfather’s gifts to know that these people did not trust each other.
He had taken up a place alone by the door. He knew most of the people there. But there were a few faces that he did not recognize.
His cousin Rex stood guard by his pregnant wife at the front of the room. Jaycee was fiddling with those markers and the giant pad that stood on an easel in front of the fireplace. “Alright, everyone, let’s get started. For those of you, who don’t know me, I’m Jaycee Ranger. It was the death of my ex-husband that kicked off this mess.”
“Well, actually, the agency had been investigating McBride Industries for some time. But it was Sean Riley’s suicide and Jaycee’s statement that gave us just cause for the warrants we needed to launch a full investigation.”
Jaycee nodded, “Thanks, Ryan, for the clarification. Ryan Ranger was undercover as General Counsel at McBride for several months. I would suggest that we go around the room and introduce ourselves, but that might take all night. So, how about this? If you have something to add, please begin by stating your connection to this…”
“Fuck storm? I’m Jack Greywolf, and I’ll be damned if I know how I am involved here. Other than knowing most of you and doing some old friends a favor.”
Jaycee smiled at him, “Jack is also former Army Ranger, my husband’s cousin, and friends with both Reb and the Reynolds. I’m not sure that is the technical word for it, but I am glad that the children are asleep.”
She flipped her chart back to the page they had filled during that phone conference that seemed a lifetime ago. “Okay, so let’s review what we knew or thought we knew at the last meeting. First of all, can we now agree that Diego Garcia is the man behind McBride Industries?” She looked around the room at the nodding heads.
“I would say so from what this Will fellow said to my Rose.” Reb’s friend spoke as he drew the woman that Jack recognized from the news from her perch on the chair arm into his lap. Cassandra McBride had dyed her hair; it was almost the same shade of red as Stacey Reynolds now. But her features were the same.
“Thanks, Chad, right? Cassie and Callie McBride have even been in hiding at Chad’s ranch in East Texas. Until…”
“Rose. Please call me Rose now. And my daughter is Grace. Grace Wilson.” The woman looked up at the man. Their eyes held for a long moment until the man nodded silently. From the heated looked they shared, the woman’s next words did not surprise Jack at all.
“Grace is not Gerald’s child. Chad is her biological father.” Her cheeks flamed, and her eyes filled with tears.
The man turned her so that her face was buried in his chest. “We share that information so ya’ll will understand. This shit is serious for me. No one messes with my family.”
The man’s eyes traveled across the room where Reb stood with his small band, most of whom Jack had no idea who the fuck they were. Except for the woman. He’d known Wanda Kerr since he came to live with his grandfather, almost a quarter of a century.
Reb nodded his head before he spoke, “I know that, Chad. And I know that you aren’t certain you can trust any of us, especially since it was Will that kidnapped Callie.” He nodded to them, “My apologies, Grace.”
Before he could speak again, Ryan walked to where the couple sat in a chair, another man Jack did not know, almost standing guard at their backs. From the looks of the guy, another Marine. Ryan met Chad eye-to-eye, then he reached out his hands to take the woman’s. Cassandra McBride, or Rose, if that was what she wanted to call herself, turned in Chad’s arms and looked up at the man Jack had known for almost two decades.
“I know Will, Agent Caleb Williams. We went through the academy together. I know this looks bad, but I promise you I have never known a more principled agent.”
She nodded her head, “I had thought so, but…”
“But the bastard kidnapped an innocent child,” Chad erupted.
Ryan nodded his head but held the man’s gaze, refusing to look away. “Yes, sir, no one here is denying that fact. But as your woman admits, Will told her the reason. Diego Garcia kidnapped Will’s twelve-year-old cousin from a Dallas bus stop over three years ago.”
“The police would not even open an investigation for forty-eight hours. They said the girl had probably just run away or was involved in drugs or gangs. An honor-roll student at one of the top academies in the state?”
“But she was also black and a scholarship student. I don’t mean you, Rose, or anyone else in this room any disrespect, but if his cousin had been white, we all know it would have been all over the news in less than an hour.”
“I admit I’ve had it easy. I might have been born a ‘bastard,’ as they say, but my family’s wealth and prestige and the color of our skin meant that my mother never had to face those kinds of assumptions.”
“Hell, when I went to kindergarten, I broke a boy’s arm for calling me that. I was expelled and choose to homeschool until high school because I was not sure I could trust myself after that.”
“But let me ask you, what do you think would have happened if I were black like my friend? Social services? Foster homes? Maybe even reform school? So before any of us go judging anyone else, we need to walk a mile in their boots.”
Ryan’s eyes caught Laura’s, and Jack’s heart almost exploded out of his chest. He’d give his life for a woman to look at him like that. Even just once. Of course, his cousin and Ryan always had been the special ones.
“I’m a father now too. So, I do understand how you’re feeling. But let me ask you, man-to-man, wouldn’t you do the exact same thing to protect your family? Cause I’m sure as hell not ashamed, or proud, to admit I would.”
Stacey Reynolds looked to the woman, “And he’s got my daughter to think about too. Diego Garcia might be her half-brother, but from what Elena told me, that only makes things worse.”
Grandfather stood from his place in the old rocker by the fire. He walked to stand beside Jaycee, and those dark eyes that had always seemed to Jack knew the secrets of the universe and the hearts of man scanned each and every face in the room.
“Fate, the great spirit, or whatever god you call upon has brought each and every one of you to this place and this moment. Each of you has a role to play in his or her plan,” the old man smiled at Jaycee. “All of you are warriors, in one way or another, pure of heart.”
His gaze stopped at the small group in that chair, “But you must choose. The human spirit, free will, is greater than anything else in this universe. Even the will of the gods.”
Jaycee cleared her throat as she brushed tears from her eyes; hers were not the only ones. “Thank you, Grandfather. How about we all take a short break? Get some coffee and talk.” She looked to the old man, “Decide if this is where we belong.”
Grandfather nodded his head and smiled. For Jack, there was no doubt. It was not like he had a damned thing to lose. Less than a week and the only thing that his grandfather had left would go to the tribal council.
Maybe that was the best thing anyway. He had spent close to a year doing his damnedest to keep that fucking casino afloat. Between Kerr’s harassment, the economy, and now this damned new virus, it seemed a losing battle.
The second. His grandfather’s stipulation in the will aside, Jack wanted what he saw in the room. He wanted a woman that trusted him enough to cuddle into his arms, even when her daughter was lost, and her whole fucking world was turned upside.
He wanted someone that looked at him with so fucking much pride like Laura had Ryan. Hell, the man had accomplished the impossible; he had softened his friend’s cold-ass ‘I don’t need no man’ attitude.
It had been bad enough when it was just Rex and Jaycee. He had been able to control his jealousy then. But, fuck, even Reb? Hell, he’d never even imagined that Stacey Reynolds could mellow like that. And Reb? In a fucking month, the man looked different. There was some new peace that he could not begin to explain.
No, he needed to get the fuck out of here before all that gods-be-damned love made him sick. Always for others, but never for him. But what did he expect?
Ryan might be a bastard, but at least he had a mother. All Jack could remember of the woman who gave birth to him was drugs, booze, and men. His grandfather would never say, but Jack had hacked into his social service’s file once. It confirmed what he had always suspected. His mother had been a whore, nothing more than a street prostitute. She probably had not even known who his father was.
The stars in the pre-dawn sky twinkled as Jack stood on the front porch, staring at them. Jack liked to believe that out there somewhere was his mother and even that love-sick puppy that had raised him. He hoped that they were happier than they had been in this life. Maybe the Christians were right? Perhaps happiness in this world was not possible?
But when he looked back at the lights glowing from that room, he was not so sure about that. Those people, his cousin, Ryan, even Reb, had something special. Something that would make even the most challenging times a bit easier. And as usual, he was the loner, on the outside looking in, at things he could never have.
“Son of my brother, always so pessimistic.”
Jack felt the hand on his shoulder and shrugged it off. The old man might know his every thought, but the man had never been able to make Jack’s dreams come true.
“No, son, no one can do that but you. Remember what I said in there. Your free will is stronger than anything. Even the love you say you would give anything to have. If I were you, I would not tease the gods with such thoughts.”